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Haaretz: Civil Administration officials indicted in West Bank land steal

By Akiva Eldar

To view original article, published in Haaretz on the 18th June, click here

Two senior officials in the Civil Administration allegedly illegally collaborated with Jewish land dealers to take over land in the West Bank, according to an indictment issued Tuesday in the Jerusalem District Court. Lieutenant Colonel Yair Blumenthal and Major Ehud Brosh have been charged with taking bribes and favors from the dealers, brothers Yosef and Yaakov Amram.

Blumenthal, who headed of the Civil Administration’s infrastructure department, is charged with helping the brothers further fraudulent business deals by providing them with internal documents and equipment belonging to the Civil Administration in exchange for over $40,000.

Brosh, who was head of the lands department in the unit providing legal counsel to the Israel Defense Forces’ Judea and Samaria division, stands accused of taking bribes in the form of vacations abroad and in Israel, in return for furthering the Amram brothers’ business ventures.

The land is said to have been used to expand settlements in the Jericho and Hebron areas.

Blumenthal allegedly furnished the brothers classified aerial maps and land registration documents, which assisted them in locating lands whose owners were out of the country, making it easier for them to forge documents. Blumenthal is also said to have drafted a letter to himself in the brothers’ name, allowing them to receive increased compensation after land they supposedly owned – which he described as grapevine plantations – was expropriated.

Blumenthal also provided the Amram brothers with names, addresses, ages and dates of entry and exit from the country of Arab West Bank land owners, and verified whether they were alive and other details said to have assisted the dealers in forging powers of attorney and selling lands in the name of absentee or deceased Palestinian land owners.

From 2000 to 2003, the brothers obtained documents proving that their company owned lands in Hebron, El Jib north of Jerusalem, Jericho and Tubas in the northern West Bank. They then presented these documents to the Jewish National Fund subsidiary Himnuta, with an offer to sell land that in some cases Himnuta bought. The forgeries were sometimes carried out using Arab front men who presented themselves as the land owners.

The affair came to light after the heirs of Said Ali Salah Aldin, a minister in the Jordanian government in the 1960s who died in Jerusalem in 1985, discovered that 208 dunams (some 50 acres) of land near Jericho registered in their father’s name had been sold to Himnuta. The heirs went to the police, who discovered that the Amrams had located a Jordanian resident whose name and other details were identical to Aldin’s, and had him sign a document at the Israeli Embassy in Amman as the owner of the land, granting power of attorney to the Amram’s front man, Jawwad Kawasmeh. The brothers also instructed Jerusalem attorney Eitan Tzachi to sign an authorized copy of the power of attorney, and after receiving approval for the sale, sold the land to Himnuta for over NIS 2 million.

Tzachi, who was allegedly involved in several of the Amrams’ other deals, was being blackmailed by Yosef Amram who enticed him to a hotel and filmed him with a prostitute.

In another case Amram flew with Tzachi to Cyprus in July 2001 to complete a real estate deal in which a Jordanian citizen, Sherif Zayad, sold him 530 dunams (about 132 acres) near Jericho. Amram demanded that Zayad signs a declaration that he had received the full sale price ($1,270,000) and was lending Amram $1,000,000. When Zayad balked, Amram threatened he would have Hamas men deal with Zayad. Tzachi, who witnessed the exchange,
told Amram he would not have Zayad sign under such conditions. Amram then escorted Tzachi to a hotel balcony, where he beat him and threatened to make the tape with the prostitute public, after which Zayad signed the papers and Tzachi signed as notary.

The Amram brothers have also been charged with tax evasion of more than NIS 10 million.