Analysis: Holyland case headed for a knockout?

A one-two punch from Ehud Olmert seems to have put the Holyland case on the ropes.

February 28, 2013 23:09
Ehud Olmert after verdict.

Ehud Olmert after verdict 370. (photo credit: Gali Tibbon/Reuters)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s one-two punch against the state’s main witness and the documents he has produced in the Holyland case may have wrapped up another acquittal for Olmert.

Short of a knock-out when the state cross-examines Olmert, or some massively convincing evidence from a source besides its main witness – referred to only as “S.D.” under a gag order – the state’s case against Olmert is on the ropes after this week’s events.

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On Sunday, Olmert’s lawyer, Roi Belcher, in dramatic fashion unveiled a list in S.D.’s diary of names of people who had received bribes.

Only Olmert’s name was not on the list.

Belcher set S.D. up to maximize damaging his credibility with the judge.

First, Belcher asked S.D. who the most important of the people he had bribed was – to which S.D. responded that it was Olmert.

Next, Belcher asked S.D. if he made a list of those who accepted bribes, who would be at the top of the list? To which S.D. responded that the most important person, Olmert, would be at the top.

Next, Belcher got S.D. to repeatedly state that he had never made such a list.

Belcher then caught S.D. blindsided, unveiling the diary, which apparently S.D. did not recall and which the state had not known existed, but which S.D. did not deny that was written in his handwriting.

But possibly the most damaging part of the state’s case was S.D.’s bewildered, confused and paranoid-sounding counterattack. S.D. lashed out at the defense, essentially accusing it, or some third party, of stealing his diary from an office space that he had inhabited.

When asked why he was accusing the defense specifically of “theft” and ignoring other less severe possibilities, he essentially said that the diary was his, that he had not given it to the defense and that meant that if the defense secretly had the diary, it must have stolen it from him.

The defense then played out an entirely different scenario, in which S.D. may have apparently left large amounts of documents to his former landlord without moving them because of issues of cost or inability to store them, without realizing that some of the items, like the diary, might be important.

S.D. tried to refute this narrative, but the damage was done, as it showed the judge that S.D.’s state of mind in analyzing issues seemed to be to rush to the most criminal explanation while ignoring less harmful possibilities.

To the extent that Olmert is arguing that his interactions with S.D. and any money passed back and forth was never quid pro quo, but was in the form of voluntary gifts to people connected to Olmert, such as his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, were misunderstood by S.D. as bribes – this is a devastating line of attack.

Olmert’s legal team can show before the court’s eyes that S.D.’s lens for viewing Olmert’s actions were seemingly as paranoid and blind to other less nefarious possibilities as they were with the issue of how the defense acquired the diary.

But that was not even the biggest blow the state’s case against Olmert suffered this week.

It is true that the judge could look at the list and conclude that it proves S.D., in his heart of hearts, did not think that he bribed Olmert and concocted the whole story at a later date.

But even if the list hurts S.D.’s credibility, there are other explanations for why Olmert might not have been on that particular list – maybe S.D., in some ironic paranoia did not want to write anything even in his diary about the then-prime minister until he was sure he was going to point the finger at him with the authorities – and Judge David Rozen could still ignore all of S.D.’s testimony and convict Olmert on the strength of documentary evidence of bribes having been given.

But on Tuesday the hammer fell on that line of attack as well.

For the first time, the defense relatively convincingly proved that S.D. had forged documents, including with his own handwriting, which he had given to the state and the state had submitted to the court to specifically prove the case against Olmert.

If the state’s last stronghold of “evidentiary purity” was the humongous stacks of documentary evidence of bribes being given, this attack blew a gaping hole through the center of the fortress.

S.D. had previously admitted to forging documents in a separate civil case against other defendants besides Olmert, prior to the criminal proceeding. Other defendants had also proved that S.D. had forged documents presented in the criminal proceedings against them.

But this was the first proof of forging documents against Olmert, removing any chance S.D. could claim that while he had forged documents and lied in the past, everything against Olmert now was truthful.

The document itself was somewhat innocuous. It was supposed to prove that Olmert demanded that S.D. and his Holyland project boss, Hillel Cherny, switch to using Olmert’s accounting firm, Barzilai, to make approvals for Holyland smoother.

This could have continued to show a pattern of Olmert asking for all sorts of favors for himself and his associates, including bribes, from S.D. for his help smoothing over legal and zoning problems for the Holyland project.

But Belcher showed that the document, which S.D. claimed was sent in 1994, included a telephone number for one of S.D.’s companies, Amior – which did not exist until 1996. The 1996 telephone number was seven digits long, whereas the 1994 telephone number was only six digits.

S.D. gave an odd explanation, suggesting that the page had been photocopied on a different piece of stationary at a later date. But he also gave several different contradictory answers that probably did not earn him points for credibility with the court.

This could prove to the court how far S.D. was willing to go either to “spice up” or to completely invent the allegations against Olmert, including for innocuous documents that were at most supposed to be indirect proof of Olmert’s alleged pattern of illegal conduct.

The court could still decide to throw out just this particular document and not others produced by S.D. The state could still blow away Olmert on cross-examination and the court could weight documentary evidence from others besides S.D. as having more value for the case as a whole than the problems the defense appears to have highlighted in the state’s case.

But when the court told Olmert’s lawyers they should wrap up their case faster essentially because other defendants are in deeper water than Olmert is, it was a not-so-subtle hint that the case against Olmert is on the ropes.

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