Former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday was acquitted of central corruption charges against him in the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs, and was found guilty of breach of trust in the Investment Center affair.
In one of the most significant corruption trials in Israel’s history, Olmert was being tried on three main charges of corruption – dubbed the Rishon Tours affair, the Talansky or cash envelopes affair and the Investment Center affair. The indictment spanned events that allegedly took place during 2002-2006, first during Olmert’s tenure as mayor of Jerusalem and later when he served as a government minister.
Other charges listed on the indictment included that Olmert failed to disclosed donations from US businessman Joe Almaliah to the state comptroller.
Olmert's former bureau chief Shula Zaken, accused of aiding Olmert in relation to the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs, and also of wiretapping conversations in Olmert’s bureau, was convicted on two counts of fraud and breach of trust in the Rishon Tours affair.
Following the verdict, lawyers defending Olmert stressed that though found guilty of minor charges in the Investment Center affair, Olmert was acquitted of the central charges against him. "There were technical improprieties," said Navit Negev, Olmert's defense attorney in the Rishon Tours affair. "But the improprieties were nothing like the charges laid out in the indictment of former prime minister Ehud Olmert."
The sentiment was echoed by lawyers defending Olmert in the two other major cases. All three lawyers slammed the state prosecution for forcing a sitting prime minister to leave office over "aesthetic" charges. "No man is above the law," said defense attorney Navot Tal Tzur, "but no man is below the law either."
The defense attorneys also said that they would not appeal the verdict if the prosecution does not.
The Rishon Tours charge alleged that Olmert double-billed various nonprofit organizations for overseas flights, and used the extra money – which the prosecution alleges totaled over $92,000 – to pay for private trips for himself and his family, via his travel agency Rishon Tours.
In the so-called Talansky Affair, Olmert was charged with receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from American businessman Morris Talansky.
The Investment Center affair relates to the period when Olmert was minister of industry, trade and labor. The prosecution contended that Olmert granted illegal favors to Uri Messer – Olmert’s longtime friend and former partner – who applied to the Investment Center for state grants and other benefits.
While most criminal trials are heard by a single judge, in Olmert’s case, three judges – Jerusalem District Court President Moussia Arad, Judge Jacob Zaban and Judge Moshe Sobel – presided over the marathon trial, which took over two years and involved testimony from over 120 witnesses.
Even though Olmert was cleared of blame, his legal troubles are far from over. In a completely unrelated trial in the Tel Aviv District Court, Olmert is charged alongside 12 other individuals – one of them Zaken – with corruption in connection with the Holyland Affair.
Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report