Olmert’s trial resumes after summer break

Trial continues after prosecution was accused of coaching a witness; investigation is still under way.

September 6, 2010 02:19
3 minute read.
Ehud Olmert.

Olmert 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert is due to resume in Jerusalem District Court on Monday following a two-month summer break.

The trial recessed on a shrill note, when the defense accused the state prosecution of having coached a witness, Hadar Saltzman-Shifoni, by giving her a document drafted by the prosecution that allegedly summarized the answers she had given to police during the investigation.

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Saltzman-Shifoni works for Rishon Tours, the company whose services Olmert used when he allegedly double-billed the state and various public organizations and charities for trips he made abroad on their behalf.

Members of the former prime minister’s defense team, attorneys Eli Zohar, Navit Negev and Nevot Tel-Tzur, said that the prosecution had used the document to introduce incriminating statements against Olmert that Saltzman- Shifoni did not make during police questioning.

Before her testimony, the prosecution informed the defense that it had held a number of “refresher” sessions with Saltzman-Shifoni to prepare her for testifying. It presented Olmert’s lawyers with two pages of text that, according to the defense, indicated differences between what Saltzman- Shifoni had told police and what she was being told to say in court by the prosecution.

During her court testimony, it emerged that the document that had been prepared for her totaled 32 pages.

On June 23, Zohar filed a criminal complaint against the prosecutors, accusing them of obstructing justice, suborning a witness, harassing a witness, abusing their office, fraud and breach of faith, all violations of the Penal Code.

Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel said that the defense complaint was an attempt toward “dramatic but empty moves in and out of court.”

However, District Court President Moussia Arad did not see it that way.

“If you wanted to prepare a document because the witness was unwilling to read the entire text, then quote accurately from the text,” she told attorney Uri Korb, the main prosecutor.

“You are permitted to do so. But why draw up a document like this? How do you come to such a thing? On the face of it, everything you have said [in defense of the document] fails to tally with the document itself.”

A Justice Ministry spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post that the investigation, which had been handed over to Deputy Attorney-General for Criminal Affairs Rachel Gottlieb, was still under way.

Olmert is on trial for three major cases of corruption that allegedly took place during his years as mayor of Jerusalem and minister of Industry, Trade and Labor: the Talansky affair, in which he is accused of receiving money from a New York Jewish businessman without reporting it to the authorities; the Investment Center affair, in which he is charged with granting favors to his longtime friend and personal attorney, Uri Messer; and the Rishon Tours affair.

His trial started off with hearings on the Investment Center matter and several lesser charges.

Messer was said to have been involved in both the Investment Center and Talansky affairs, but under interrogation, he turned against his old friend. He was due to appear in court as a witness for the prosecution.

With the trial already under way, the Holyland affair exploded onto the public stage. It involved many suspects, including Olmert, who was suspected of having accepted bribes to enlarge the permitted size of the residential housing project in south Jerusalem, and Messer, who was suspected of having passed the bribes to Olmert.

At this point, the prosecution asked the court to suspend the hearings relating to the Investment Center, as well as to the Talansky charges, which were next in line, because both might have been linked to the Holyland affair.

The problem lay in the possibility that Messer might be indicted for the Holyland affair and, due to the linkage, indicted retroactively in the Investment Center and Talansky affairs, which would affect his status as a prosecution witness.

As a result, the trial shifted its focus to the Rishon Tours affair, in which Messer was not involved.

Last month, police recommended that charges be brought against Olmert, but not against Messer, in connection with the Holyland affair. If State Attorney Moshe Lador formally concurs, the state will be able to resume the Investment Center and Talansky trials, to run concurrently with the Rishon Tours hearings.

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