Israeli police arrested six Arabs early Tuesday morning suspected of a multi-million shekel real estate scam in eastern Jerusalem, an affair sure to send shockwaves throughout the system.
The police stated that following an undercover investigation by the Jerusalem District Police Central Unit and other groups, they were successful in exposing a plot by the suspects to illegally steal land in eastern Jerusalem.
Police units raided the suspects’ homes in Jerusalem and in the Arab town of Taibeh in the center of the country, arrested the suspects and searched for additional documents suspected of being forged by them.
The suspects, which included lawyers and prominent businessmen, used a sophisticated scheme of forged documents and fraudulent activities to seize state-owned land in eastern Jerusalem. Some of the suspects are believed to have earned tens of millions of shekels in these fraudulent land deals.
The suspects were taken in for questioning on suspicion of committing fraud under aggravated circumstances, forgery under aggravated circumstances, hiding of income, submission of false documents to the tax authorities and money laundering offenses.
TPS has learned that one of the suspects is the wealthy businessman Ibrahim Julani, who had previously forged documents and was sentenced to court-ordered community service for the forgery offenses. Sources in eastern Jerusalem told TPS that Julani purchased land in the Shimon Hatzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood in the past using inside information from the Israel Lands Administration for his scams. One of the officials in the administration was removed from office on suspicion of collaborating with him and exploiting inside information.
In one of the plots, Julani built 52 housing units, each worth $700,000. He has building permits for another 52 apartments.
Another suspect in the case is Mohanad Jabara, who is considered a senior lawyer in Jerusalem. Jabara built a “smart” building in Sheikh Jarrah and equipped it with advanced technologies, and rented it to the British Embassy.
Another person involved in the case is Hussein Ghanaim, a lawyer who previously served as a state witness in a case of forgery of land ownership documents.
Yet another suspect, currently known only as S.D., denies his involvement in the affair, but eyewitnesses report that he was seen in the interrogation rooms of the Jerusalem police before being released home later in the day.
Additional people involved in the investigation were also detained for questioning and evidence was collected from others.
Searches of the suspects’ homes also uncovered about NIS 200,000 in cash. Five luxury vehicles and properties worth millions of shekels were seized. Similarly, the accounts and assets of those involved, worth more than NIS 50 million, have been frozen.
Some of the suspects have already been brought before a judge for a hearing.
The rest of those involved will remain in detention for another four days, as the investigation of the affair continues, the police said.
TPS has learned that the scam operations included the seizure of land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, an area already under the purview of the court, which is expected to rule on the evacuation of 28 Arab families living illegally on Jewish owned land.
TPS has further learned that the affair began when documents submitted to the local planning and construction committee by the Arab lawyers, were suspected of being forged, which led to the investigation by the tax authorities.
The affair possibly points to a number of failures in the activities of the planning committees in the municipality.
For example, although the investigation progressed and it was clear to municipal officials that there was a chance that the documents were forged, the Jerusalem municipality still issued building permits, due to deficient working procedures and the lack of control and oversight mechanisms.
Furthermore, the municipality apparently used working procedures that presented opportunities for acts of fraud and forgery. Among other things, municipal officials and legal advisers rely on “oral translations” on the part of Arab stakeholders, who submit ownership documents and transactions written in Arabic. The officials themselves cannot read the documents and cannot rule on their authenticity.
Another example is the use of the “Mukhtar procedure” in which the testimony of a Mukhtar, a local Arab leader, can be relied on to prove ownership, unsurprisingly also created a loophole in the system.
A senior official said that “it is clear to everyone that municipal officials turned a blind eye to fraud and received documents without adequate inspection.”