Completing nearly two years of what may be looked back on as the trial of the century, the Tel Aviv District Court on Monday convicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert on charges of bribery.
Olmert's legal team noted he was acquitted on two charges of bribery and strongly hinted that he would appeal on the convictions, referring to defects in the decision and saying that this "would not be the last word." With a thundering ruling that will shake the country, Judge David Rozen also convicted former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski,former Bank Hapoalim Chairman Dan Dankner, Olmert's former chief-of-staff Shula Zaken and, in total, 10 out of 13 individual defendants (3 defendants are corporations.) Only former Israel Lands Administration head Yaakov Efrati, Holyland Park investor Amnon Shafran and Holyland Park manager Shimon Gal'on were acquitted, and even in their cases only because of not meeting the standard of beyond a reasonable of standard.
Olmert was convicted of some of the most serious bribery charges including two separate charges of indirectly receiving bribes for NIS 60,000 via Zaken and confidante Uri Messer and NIS 500,000 via his brother Yossi and the court rejected most of his defenses.
Absent Rozen being very sympathetic since Olmert is a former prime minister (and Olmert did get this sympathy at his Jerusalem trial) he could be looking at serious jail time. The court said that Zaken had been Olmert's "right hand" and that it was not believable that she was receiving such large sums of money (the court said that he probably would have convicted Olmert of even larger sums, but some of the funds were outdated by the statute of limitations), some of which benefitted his election fundraising, without her informing him.
Rozen said that Zaken even got convicted in the prior Jerusalem corruption trial rather than testify against Olmert, showing how close and in tandem the two were.
On the NIS 500,000 in bribes given to Yossi Olmert, Ehud's brother, to help pay off his debts, the court completely rejected Ehud's story that he did not know that Duchner gave the money to Yossi.
The court added that there was no reason for Duchner to give Yossi money except at Ehud's request since they did not know each other.
Rozen said that Duchner was always careful to make sure sponsors like Olmert knew he had given bribes to secure their help with the Holyland project.
In that respect, the court rejected Olmert's characterization of Duchner as a miser, stating that all of the events where he attended or was honored by Olmert's invitation, showed that his doling out bribes was part of a reputation as a frequent donator.
Further, he rejected Olmert's alibi that neither he nor other members of Yossi's family knew how bad Yossi's debts were or would try to get him large funds.
Also, Rozen was convinced that evidence showing that Olmert's one-time benefactor, Morris Talansky, had given the $30,000 to Yossi, proved that Ehud had a pattern of asking others to give Yossi money.
The judge also completely rejected Zaken's alibi that money she got from Duchner was not bribes, but part of a romance between them.
Rozen called Zaken a "central mover" in the bribery scheme, telling the state that he is not convinced he wants to accept an easy sentence for the plea bargain the state agreed to.
He added that in light of his conviction of Olmert already on major bribery charges, it is unclear that her evidence and charges of mere obstruction is a "revolution." Zaken agreed to a plea deal with the state which involves her agreeing to serve 11 months in jail and paying NIS 100,000, the state dropping its appeal to the Supreme Court against her acquittals on major charges (she was convicted on two minor counts) in the Jerusalem corruption trial and other provisions.
Though the state originally rejected Zaken's new evidence as insufficient, at the start of last week, Zaken produced to the state a series of cassette tapes which the state said provide a "serious suspicion" of obstruction of justice and witness tampering against Olmert.
By moving forward with the verdict, the plea bargain reportedly could require Zaken to cooperate with the state in filing a new indictment against Olmert for the obstruction of justice charges – though the state may call it a day having gotten a conviction.
In the Holyland trial, Olmert was originally accused of accepting over NIS 1.5 million in bribes (out of around NIS 9 million given to public officials in total), either directly or through Zaken or his brother Yossi to smooth over various legal and zoning obstacles. The allegations relate to the 1993-mid 2000s period while Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and Minister of Infrastructure, Trade and Industry.
The early days of the trial in July 2012 were difficult for Olmert and the other 15 defendants - accused of taking bribes and committing fraud.
Shmuel Duchner, who for around eight months of the trial was known only as S.D., had the floor and charged Olmert and the other defendants with a wide range of highly specific charges which he and the prosecution backed up with a mound of documents.
He said that originally, the project was only approved for building on 25,000 meters of land, while eventually 311,000 meters of land were approved for construction thanks to the bribes.
In January 2013, the prosecution added to the strength of Duchner's charges regarding bribes he paid to Ehud's brother Yossi (who did not testify until May 2013) at Ehud's request, when it called Talansky to testify that Ehud had similarly convinced him to pay $30,000 to Yossi in 2004.
Then the prosecution had several rough months during cross-examination of Duchner in which he was cornered into admitting that some of his allegations were made up to sweeten the case and that even some documents he presented, he had forged for the same purpose.
Olmert's lawyers caught him in a dramatic moment, showing that he had done a messy photocopy job in combining unrelated documents when they showed that a telephone number on one document did not exist on the date that the document was allegedly drafted, but only existed in a completely different year.
But the court said that most of Duchner's allegations were supported by authentic documents or testimony produced by others and that the state itself had been careful to mostly only file charges which could be corroborated, even going so far as to let several others who could have been additional defendants off the hook, if there was no supporting evidence.
The court also added that it was wise to and could distinguish where Duchner was inconsistent and where he was credible, citing a 10 page list of his inconsistencies in the verdict.
Further, the court said that some inconsistencies were unintentional and just a matter of genuine mistakes inherent in Duchner testifying about a massive amount of information.
One blow to the prosecution's case was the death of Duchner in March 2013.
Duchner's death not only removed the state's main witness from pushing its case forward, but it gave Olmert's lawyers the argument that some charges against him, for example regarding the alleged NIS 500,000 Duchner gave to Yossi, should be dropped, since they did not get to cross-examine him on those allegations at all.
But Rozen decided that enough cross-examination took place or that he did not accept the core of Olmert's defense, such that no cross-examination could have boosted that defense.
Yossi's testimony from the US (out of fear of Israeli creditors) in May 2013, wrecked portions of Ehud's narrative and built-up the credibility of Duchner's earlier testimony.
The key point around Yossi’s testimony was whether in 2002-2003, Duchner had given him the NIS 500,000 and whether Duchner did this as a bribe for Ehud's helping move the Holyland project forward.
Whether truthfully or because he can’t read a script, when Yossi testified to the court, he changed his story he told police, telling the court that he had never met Duchner or gotten money from him, but later admitted he had received money from Duchner in 1996.
Why would Yossi tell something untrue to police that would hurt Ehud more? He gave several different answers, but in one of them he likely subconsciously slipped and mentioned that Ehud was currently in the room with him (but had not been there when he admitted to police to receiving funds.) The court also confirmed the truth of Duchner giving funds to Yossi at Ehud's request by Zaken's saying that the allegations were "possible." While Olmert's lawyers asked the court to interpret "possible" as "I don't remember," the court interpreted it as "yes." Regarding Olmert's testifying, he was not always as good as his lawyers, with Rozen sometimes telling him he was getting too fancy in his arguments and denials and that he should keep his answers simple.
His and the other defendants sentencing is set for April 28.
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