The upcoming retrial in the Talansky Affair that brought about former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation in 2008 is a major setback for him in and of itself, but it may also seal his fate in the separate Holyland case.
It was not always supposed to be this way. In July 2012, Olmert emerged almost completely victorious from three separate scandals. Almost politically unscathed, polling showed he was a viable candidate to return as prime minister.
Olmert was acquitted of charges related to his most scandalous issue, the Talansky Affair, overcoming allegations of illegally receiving large wads of cash from New York businessman Morris Talansky.
He also was acquitted of charges ranging from fraud, breach of trust, forging of corporate documents, and failure to report income in the Rishon Tours Affair and received a slap on the wrist with no jail time on breach of trust charges in the minor Investment Affair.
Then in March 2013, Olmert’s luck surged again, as his primary accuser in the separate Holyland trial in Tel Aviv, Shmuel Dachner, suddenly died in the middle of proceedings against him for bribery and money laundering charges. Without its main witness, the prosecution started signaling that it might drop the charges against Olmert.
Then Olmert’s wayward brother, Yossi, struck. Trying to help Ehud in the Holyland case, he contradicted his statements to police (which had badly hurt Ehud) so incompetently, that even Ehud’s lawyers called him a liar, and the Holyland case was revived.
The next and even bigger blow came from Olmert’s 30-year top confidante and aide, Shula Zaken, who finally turned state’s witness against him.
She handed the state cassette tapes which allegedly show that he illegally persuaded her not to testify in the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs and to obstruct the truth in the Holyland trial, in exchange for his covering her legal fees and other rewards, as well as telling her that her testifying would hurt his case.
He will fight hard and still may have a chance to convince the Jerusalem District Court at retrial that he did not break the law, if he can prove he believed his advice was actually in her interest, he did not conceal helping her with legal fees, and the help she received was not directly from him.
But reportedly the tapes and Zaken’s journal on the dispersal of the funds show that Olmert used the funds he received from Talansky for personal needs as well as political.
The basis of Olmert’s acquittal was that, despite significant evidence that he illegally used the funds for personal needs, there was a question whether he thought it was used only for political purposes. If that were true, at most his actions were unethical, but not illegal.
But if the reports are true, the tapes and the journal will eliminate that doubt, paving the way for a conviction in the Talansky Affair and more jail time than the six-year bribery sentence he has already been given.
Maybe more significant, in light of his prison sentence, could be the impact on Olmert’s appeal of his Holyland conviction. The former prime minister plans to attack his conviction and sentencing by Judge David Rozen, who made disputed interpretations of highly unusual circumstances in the case.
Judge Rozen penalized him for betraying his high office, and Olmert held out hope the Supreme Court would view his situation more leniently.
However, except for one of the five justices hearing his Holyland appeal, the other four are the same as in the Talansky Affair appeal. This means they have all now heard Zaken’s tapes, with all of the possibly incriminating things he told her.
That the justices unanimously sent the Talansky Affair back for retrial after listening to the tapes, despite the evidence emerging two years after his conviction, says volumes.
Perhaps most significantly, the justices themselves, in their decision to send the case back for retrial, showed much less patience for Olmert.
Justice Yoram Danziger, who initially opposed hearing the tapes (but was outvoted), even said that, in light of the evidence on the tapes, a retrial was the correct decision.
The man who once seemed as if he could dodge any conviction may now end up with multiple prison sentences in multiple cases, with no remaining sympathy to save him.