Former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his longtime aide, Shula Zaken, pleaded not guilty to all the charges included in the indictment against them during a hearing in Jerusalem District Court on Monday.
Presiding Judge Moussia Arad ordered the lawyers - attorneys Eli Zohar and Nevot Tel-Tzur for Olmert and Micha Fetman for Zaken - to file their written replies to the indictment by January 4.
Tel-Tzur told reporters after the hearing, "The bottom line is that the defendants made a sweeping rejection of all the charges against them. The burden of proof lies heavily on the shoulders of the state. I don't believe it will succeed in meeting it."
Zohar asked the court for more time to reply to the charges regarding the Rishon Tours affair since the lawyer hired to handle that issue, Yehuda Weinstein, had in the meanwhile been chosen to succeed Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and therefore resigned from the case. Zohar said he was having trouble finding a replacement because the amount of material was massive and whoever took up the case would have little time to prepare it.
The court agreed that the Rishon Tours case would be heard last.
The hearing of witnesses in the trial is to begin on February 22. Until then, the prosecution and defense must try to reach agreement on what elements of the investigation material will be contested in court. Arad urged them to meet during the next three weeks to winnow out as much as possible of the evidence that is not disputed.
The parties are due to convene once more on January 14, to try to resolve - with the help of the court - any outstanding disagreements.
However, it emerged during the hearing that the prosecution and defense had not met so far and that the process had not yet begun. Each side accused the other of responsibility for failing to begin the negotiations.
Olmert and Zaken both face charges for their alleged roles in the three main affairs, Rishon Tours, Talansky and the Investment Center for Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses. Olmert also faces charges of committing fraud with regard to the state comptroller, while Zaken is charged with eavesdropping on Olmert's phone conversations.