What bribery trial? Olmert joins Mr Westfield for a luxury Olympics

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 9, 2012

For the Olympics, the moorings around Canary Wharf have been transformed into a billionaires’ car-park. Super-yachts serve as accommodation that no five-star hotel can equal, and lie a short, chauffeured hop from the main Olympic sites. For more distant venues, there is a helipad handy.

Canary Wharf also provides its own private security — a useful shield from scrutiny for the mega-rich.
Last week, several denizens of this rarified world were invited to “a special Friday-night dinner celebration” by Shirley and Frank Lowy on their 74-metre yacht, the Ilona. The guests of honour were former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert and his wife, Aliza.

Mr Lowy, 81, is an Australian billionaire businessman with joint Israeli citizenship. In Britain, he is best known as the owner and chairman of the Westfield Group, with its two mega-shopping centres in London, the newer of which borders the Olympic park, overlooking the stadium.

In Israel, where Mr Lowy lived for five years, including a period spent fighting in the War of Independence, he has had few business dealings, although he has given generously to a wide range of charities.
The friendship between Mr Lowy and Mr Olmert is long-standing but, in 2007, became the subject of an investigation by the Israel Police’s National Fraud Investigations Unit.

The investigation began following allegations that, when he was finance minister, Mr Olmert had acted to alter the terms of the tender in the sale of Bank Leumi to assist a group led by Mr Lowy. In the event, Mr Lowy decided not to bid for the tender. He was called to give evidence during the probe but was never under any suspicion himself.

The State Attorney decided not to press charges against Mr Olmert in late 2008 “for lack of evidence” of wrongdoing but issued a severe report regarding his multiple conflicts of interest over the deal. The Supreme Court censured Mr Olmert for his conduct, saying that it was “worrisome”, although they upheld the State Attorney’s decision.

Mr Lowy and Mr Olmert are both enthusiastic sports fans. Mr Lowy was head of the Australian Football Association, while Mr Olmert was deeply involved in the Jerusalem football scene and is a regular at high-level Champions League matches around Europe.

Mr Olmert’s Olympic holiday in London took in various events, including the tennis at Wimbledon. It comes at a rare hiatus in his legal travails, arriving just three weeks after being acquitted on two charges of corruption and being found guilty of breach of trust on a third.

Mr Olmert now faces the State Attorney’s appeal against his acquittal and the next stages of the Holyland bribery trial at the Tel Aviv District Court. In that case he is accused of receiving around NIS 5 million in exchange for assistance in expediting approval for expanded construction plans at the Holyland housing complex in Jerusalem.

The meal on Mr Lowy’s yacht, attended by around 30 people, allowed Mr Olmert a chance to catch up with old friends and bask in the memory of his most recent legal victory, in the hope that his luck will not change.

Last updated: 11:28am, August 9 2012