When Ehud Olmert stepped down as prime minister in September 2008, he vowed to wage a “legal battle” to clear his name of the corruption charges that had forced his resignation.
On Tuesday, the former prime minister partially won that battle, but with the Holyland trial only just beginning in the Tel Aviv District Court, he still has much of the war left to fight.
In August 2009, the prosecution filed charges against Olmert relating to the three corruption scandals that led him to step down a year earlier – alleged double-billing with the Rishon Tours travel agency, accepting thousands of dollars in cash envelopes from New York businessman Morris Talansky and granting illegal favors to his former associate, attorney Uri Messer.
In the indictment, the prosecution formally charged Olmert with fraud, breach of trust, forging corporate documents and failure to report income.
Although police had initially also recommended pressing bribery charges, the State Attorney’s Office did not include those allegations in the final indictment.
The charges all related to Olmert’s terms as mayor of Jerusalem and later as minister of trade, labor and industry, before he became prime minister.
When the trial opened in the Jerusalem District Court in December 2009, Olmert appeared with only part of his legal team, as his main lawyer, Yehuda Weinstein, had resigned after being appointed attorney-general.
Throughout the trial, the former prime minister continued to deny the charges against him, telling the court when he took the witness stand last year that he was “fighting for his life.”
A year ago, in July 2011, the trial heated up as the prosecution began its crossexamination of Olmert.
During his time on the witness stand, Olmert and prosecutor Uri Korb engaged in bitter verbal sparring – with Jerusalem District Court President Judge Moussia Arad often intervening and asking for calm.
Throughout the trial, Olmert’s press spokesman, Amir Dan, frequently accused Korb and the prosecution of resorting to “dirty tricks” and of trying to create media spin, including by alleging during cross-examination that the former prime minister had tried to disrupt the Rishon Tours investigation by talking to his family about the matter.
When Olmert ended his testimony last July, Dan told The Jerusalem Post that the charges against the former prime minister were “simply absurd.”
On Tuesday, after his acquittal on the Talansky and Rishon Tours charges, Olmert said he had been vindicated.
“There had been no corruption, no money was received, no money was used, there were no cash envelopes,” he told reporters. “Not a thing that they tried to accuse me of regarding that affair was true.”
With the verdict in, the court will reconvene on September 5 to hear arguments for sentencing both Zaken and Olmert. The former prime minister is unlikely to receive jail time.