Key witness death rocks Olmert trial

The death of the main witness in ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s ‘Holyland’ trial is expected to have an impact on legal proceedings, even though the prosecution insists that the case will continue.

Mr Olmert is accused of accepting millions of shekels in bribes in return for approving a massive expansion of the Holyland housing project in Jerusalem.

State witness Shmuel Dechner passed away in Tel Aviv on Friday after a heart attack.

The 76-year-old Holocaust survivor was a veteran businessman and real estate developer and, in 2010, had signed a witness agreement with the police in which he admitted to having paid millions in bribes to a long list of senior officials on behalf of other businesspeople.

Among those indicted in the case being held at the Tel Aviv District Court are Mr Olmert and his successor as Jerusalem mayor, Uri Lupolianski, who is also accused of receiving bribes.

Mr Dechner had given his main testimony before his death and had been cross-examined by the lawyers of several of the 16 defendants, including of Mr Lupolianski. On the day before his death, he was on the stand and had an angry exchange of words with one of Mr Olmert’s lawyers.

Sources close to the prosecution said that there is contributory evidence on which to base the case, even without Mr Dechner.

On the other hand, defence sources are saying that since cross examinations by Mr Olmert’s lawyers and those representing other defendants have not been completed, the case for the prosecution has been weakened and they are expecting quiet attempts to reach a plea bargain.

Last updated: 3:45pm, March 7 2013