Former prime minister Ehud Olmert will take the stand for the first time in the
Holyland trial on Sunday.
His testimony could decisively affect the
The verdict on his guilt or innocence could be decisive
in determining whether Olmert, who turns 68 on Monday, can return to the
political arena and take one last shot at challenging Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu for primacy.
The Holyland trial, in the Tel Aviv District
Court, is Olmert’s second recent trial.
His first, the Jerusalem
corruption trial, ended in July 2012 with his acquittal on the most serious
charges. The prosecution appealed, but many expect it to lose the
In the Holyland trial, which began days before the first trial
ended, Olmert is accused of accepting more than NIS 1.5 million in bribes (out
of around NIS 9m. given to public officials), either directly or through aides
and his brother Yossi – between 1993 and 1999 while mayor of Jerusalem – to
overcome zoning and other legal barriers to the Holyland real estate project in
the capital’s south.
During the early stages of the trial, Olmert and the
other 15 defendants accused of taking bribes and committing fraud were
confronted by a state witness, who claimed he had been the one bribing
Shmuel Duchner, who for around eight months of the trial was known
only as S.D., accused Olmert and the other defendants of a wide range of highly
specific offenses that he and the prosecution backed up with a mound of
Duchner said that the project “could not have happened”
without Olmert’s support, obtained through bribery, and that Olmert questioned
him in detail about the real estate initiative and how he would get “reimbursed”
for assisting with approvals.
The main state witness said that originally
the project was only approved for building on 25,000 square meters of land, but
eventually 311,000 square meters were approved for construction thanks to the
He also testified that Olmert’s bureau chief, Shula Zaken, in one
instance requested emergency assistance to pay a NIS 50,000 debt, to which he
responded by giving Olmert’s driver $10,000 that he had on hand having just
returned from abroad. Duchner recounted instances in which he said he had given
up to NIS 350,000 directly to Zaken to pay for her jewelry and
In January, the prosecution added to the strength of Duchner’s
charges regarding bribes he allegedly paid to Yossi Olmert at Ehud Olmert’s
request, when it called New York businessman Morris Talansky to testify that the
former prime minister had similarly convinced him to pay $30,000 to Yossi in
The prosecution claimed this proved Ehud’s manner of operation in
getting multiple people, not merely Duchner, to pay him bribes via helping
Then the prosecution endured several months of cross-examination
of Duchner, during which the state witness admitted that some of his allegations
against some defendants were made up to strengthen the case against them. He
admitted to not only to making up some of the allegations, but also to forging
some of the documents.
Olmert’s lawyers proved Duchner had done a faulty
photocopy job in combining unrelated documents, when they showed that a
telephone number on one document did not exist in the year that the document was
The prosecution’s case suffered a further setback with
the death of Duchner in March, before Olmert’s lawyers finished their cross
Following his death, Olmert’s lawyers argued that all
charges against him, at least those based on testimony from Duchner, should be
dropped since they did not have a full and fair opportunity to cross-examine
Olmert may eventually win on this argument, though Judge David Rozen
may decide that enough cross-examination took place or that enough other
evidence exists to convict Olmert.
In April, the prosecution was openly
flirting with dismissing the case, according to Deputy State Attorney Shuki
In May, Yossi Olmert (testifying by video-conference from the
US where he has been in self-imposed exile since 2004 because of NIS 3m. he owes
to gray market figures) harmed portions of Ehud’s narrative and built up the
credibility of Duchner’s earlier testimony.
Yossi was questioned about
whether, in 2002-2003, Duchner had given him NIS 500,000 and whether Duchner did
this as a bribe for Ehud’s helping move the Holyland project forward.
had previously told police that he had met with Duchner and been given NIS
500,000, but that Ehud knew nothing about it. Yossi told the court that he had
never met Duchner or gotten money from him, but he later admitted that he had,
in fact, met him and received a smaller amount of money in 1996.
prosecution accused him of blatantly changing his story out of fear of Ehud
being in the room and even Ehud’s lawyers accused Yossi of lying, as they tried
to protect the former prime minister’s credibility.
The court, in an
unprecedented open show of its view, told Yossi that his story worked better
with Duchner’s story that he gave Yossi money as bribes for Ehud, than it did
with Ehud’s story, and that it may use Yossi’s testimony to convict
Since then, there has been little directly impacting Olmert’s case,
but other big defendants such as former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and
former Jerusalem chief architect Uri Shitrit have suffered significant setbacks
in the cases against them, building the prosecution’s credibility.