Former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s retrial over the Talansky Affair, the case that led to his 2008 resignation but for which he was acquitted in July 2012, started on Tuesday.
The retrial in Jerusalem District Court came about in light of explosive new, allegedly damaging evidence revealed in audio tapes provided by Olmert’s former powerful bureau chief, Shula Zaken.
In the new trial’s first day, much more detail was conveyed about the tapes with the state revealing the existence of 30 to 40 tapes, two of which were being used to prove the case and 10 that were provided to the defense, though they are not being used by the state.
The prosecution and defense traded barbs over how many of the tapes the state would turn over to the defense, which claimed the state was sabotaging Olmert’s defense by withholding evidence that might exonerate the former prime minister.
Responding, the state said some of the tapes would never be shared because they involved national-security matters and would be declared classified by the Defense Ministry.
It added that other tapes not turned over to the defense were not relevant to the case and that some would harm the privacy of Zaken or unconnected third persons.
The court ordered all of the tapes turned over to it so it could rule if the sides do not reach a compromise.
Judges Jacob Zaban and Moshe Sobel return for the retrial, having been on the original trial panel, while Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman has joined the panel as the third judge.
Friedman-Feldman replaces Moussia Arad, who has retired since the original verdict, highlighting how unusual the retrial is in terms of taking place so long after the original verdict.
The Talansky Affair involved Olmert allegedly receiving large amounts of cash in envelopes from New York businessman Morris Talansky between 1993 and 2005; not reporting them to the state comptroller; hiding them in his confidante Uri Messer’s secret safe; and some of the money disappearing.
The indictment had alleged that, in return, Olmert assisted Talansky with various business transactions in 2004 and 2005 and writing letters to business magnates Sheldon Adelson of the United States and Yitzhak Tshuva of Israel and others on his behalf.
Since the retrial only applies to the Talansky Affair, the state’s appeal of Olmert’s acquittal in the Rishon Tours Affair is frozen pending the new verdict.
In its July 2012 decision, the Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert in the Talansky Affair stating that, while his actions were problematic, there was a doubt as to whether he believed his funds were being used for permitted political purposes or forbidden personal needs.
The court also had held that the letters Olmert sent for Talansky were mere letters of introduction that did not prove any quid pro quo.
Olmert also was convicted in the same July 2012 trial in the Investment Center Affair, but that was the most minor of the charges and led to a slap on the wrist sentence with no jail time.
The tapes provided by Zaken, which came to light as part of a plea deal that saw her receive a lenient 11-month prison sentence in the Holyland real-estate affair, prompted the Supreme Court to order the retrial.
According to the state, the tapes – from May 2011 (just before Olmert started to testify on the Talansky Affair) to October 2012 (three months after the district court acquitted him in the case) – show that he used illegal means to pressure Zaken into refusing to testify and refusing to cooperate with the state.
The state also will get a second chance to try to put into evidence Zaken’s journal, which allegedly helps prove that Olmert received money from Talansky, with all of the above also proving that he got funds from Talansky for personal use and not just as permitted political donations.
The trial continues on September 18, with the real drama set to take place on November 3, 6, 12, 13, and 16 and in December and January, which will cover Zaken’s testimony and Olmert’s counter-testimony.