prime minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday he respects the court for acquitting him of the central corruption charges, stressing that he was only found guilty of “procedural improprieties” and that he would take the verdict to heart and internalize its lessons.
“There are judges in Jerusalem,” Olmert said, quoting the famous words of former prime minister Menachem Begin, made in 1979 over a Supreme Court ruling.
In one of the most significant corruption trials in Israel’s history, the Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert of the central corruption charges against him in the Rishon Tours affair, Talansky affair and allegations against him for misleading the state comptroller. He was found guilty only of breach of trust in the Investment Center.
“This was not corruption, there were no cash-filled envelopes, there was no bribery, there was no illicit use of funds,” Olmert said. “The Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs were the heart of the prosecution’s claim against me, and I was acquitted in both cases.”
Olmert said he did not want to thank the court for its ruling, which he did not view as a personal matter, but rather thanked it for making him feel respected through the four-year duration of the trials, implying that the court had treated him more fairly than the media and state prosecutor.
When asked more specifically what lessons he had learned, he implied that the state prosecutor also had some soul-searching to do.
Olmert concluded his press conference saying that this was not the last that the public would hear from him, signaling a possible return to politics, or at least a campaign to restore his legacy.
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 also on Tuesday on two counts of fraud and breach of trust in the Rishon Tours affair.
Responding to the verdict, Zaken said that she had just tried to act appropriately, although there were implications that she had “taken one for the team and jumped on a grenade” to save Olmert in the trial.
“I felt that the prosecution was using me as a tool... and I didn’t want to be this tool,” Zaken said at a press conference following the ruling. Zaken’s attorney also noted that she never meant to hurt anyone and that mostly the court did not convict her of intentional wrongdoing, but simply being involved in some messy affairs.
Following the verdict, lawyers defending Olmert stressed that though he was 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.”
That 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 should be abused by the law either.” The defense attorneys also said that they would not appeal the verdict if the prosecution does not. They further added that it would be “blatantly unreasonable” for the state to appeal in the case’s circumstances.
A state prosecutor, Eli Abarbanel, defended his decision to charge Olmert, saying that the prosecution had an obligation to present its position to the courts.
“We respect the court for its decision,” he said in a press briefing following the trial.
“The court has decided that it rejects our position on Olmert, and that is its right.
But we had an obligation to present our position.”
Abarbanel added that the court “harshly condemned” Olmert for his role in the affairs.