Olmert denies involvement in Holyland scandal

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has denied that he was involved in a massive real estate scandal that also has led to the arrest of former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski.

In a news conference Thursday evening, Olmert called police suspicion that he took a bribe in what is being described as one of the worst corruption scandals in Israeli history “a character assassination attempt that is unprecedented in its scope and might.”

Olmert was identified Thursday by police as the chief suspect in the Holyland project scandal.

“I declare in the most decisive manner, as I said in the past—I was never offered a bribe, and I never took a bribe from anyone, in any matter, in any way, whether directly or indirectly,” Olmert said during the news conference,

Olmert voluntarily cut short a planned visit abroad Wednesday to return to Israel in order to be questioned in the corruption probe. He is suspected of accepting nearly $1 million in bribes during the construction of the Holyland apartment project in Jerusalem, built on the site of the former Holyland Hotel. Olmert is currently on trial in other corruption scandals.

Lupolianski was arrested the same day in connection with the Holyland scandal. Five other officials, including Uri Messer, a former aide to Olmert when he was mayor of Jerusalem, were arrested last week in the probe.

Lupolianski is suspected of accepting about $750,000 in bribes during the construction of the Holyland project.

Police believe that Olmert received his money through Messer and his former bureau chief Shula Zaken, who also is on trial in another corruption scandal involving Olmert.

The Holyland project started while Olmert served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003, and ended with his successor, Lupolianski, who served until 2008.