JERUSALEM: The former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was last night named as the previously unidentified ”senior figure” suspected of accepting a $1 million bribe to facilitate the construction of a controversial Jerusalem housing development known as the Holyland project.Mr Olmert, who is already on trial for other corruption charges, cut short a European holiday yesterday to return to Israel after reports about his alleged involvement in the scandal surrounding the Holyland project.Police have already questioned dozens of figures connected to the construction project, some of whom have testified that Mr Olmert and other senior Jerusalem officials accepted millions of dollars in bribes to get the development through the Jerusalem municipality planning committee.Police believe that Mr Olmert received his money through two channels:His close friend and associate attorney Uri Messer, who was arrested last week; andHis former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, who is abroad and expected to be questioned by police upon her return.The scandal has also snared the former mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupoliansky.Mr Lupoliansky, 59, who was mayor from 2003 to 2008, is accused of receiving more than $850,000 in bribes to promote the controversial development – dubbed by a judge last week as the ”monster on the hill project”.Mr Lupoliansky, the city’s first ultra-Orthodox mayor, is accused of funnelling the money through Yad Sarah, a charity he founded in the 1970s to help the elderly and disabled.Built on a previously vacant hilltop owned by the businessman Hillel Charney, the Holyland project includes more than a 1000 apartments in a series of high-rise towers that dominate the city’s south-western skyline.According to a key witness statement given to police, systematic bribes were paid to a series of officials including Mr Lupoliansky to bypass legal steps to get construction permits.Other officials alleged to have received bribes include the former city engineer Uri Shetrit.Between 1993 and 2003, Mr Olmert served two terms as mayor of Jerusalem, later serving as industry and labour minister in the national government led by Ariel Sharon.When Mr Sharon suffered a stroke in January 2006, Mr Olmert stepped in as acting prime minister.Mr Olmert led the centrist Kadima party to victory in general elections in March 2006 but mounting corruption allegations forced him to leave politics last year. Earlier this year, prosecutors formally brought him to trial on charges that include fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents and tax evasion.Mr Olmert had been on holiday in Vienna. Friends said he had come back to ”put an end to the spate of malicious rumours about his involvement in the affair”. A group of Israeli journalists had been tailing Mr Olmert around Europe since news of the corruption investigation into the Holyland project broke two weeks ago.His media adviser, Amir Dan, said that ”in light of the reports in the past days, which have only been increasing, according to which the police wish to question [Mr] Olmert on his alleged involvement in the Holyland affair, [Mr] Olmert has decided to shorten his trip … and return to Israel”.Israeli media reports suggest prosecutors will call Mr Olmert in for questioning next week, after the Independence Day holiday on April 20.
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