Former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s legal team gave the state attorney pause at
Wednesday’s corruption trial sentencing hearing, as the state indefinitely
postponed the issue of moral turpitude, culminating a dizzying 24 hours of
announcements and surprises on the issue.
The indefinite postponement of
the issue of moral turpitude means that Olmert’s potential to return to politics
stays alive for now and is a further success in his legal battle to clear his
Olmert was previously acquitted of most of the corruption- related
crimes he had been charged with, but was convicted of breach of public trust in
the Investment Center Affair.
A breach of public trust can, but does not
necessarily, carry with it a holding that the actions of the person convicted
constituted moral turpitude. A court finding of moral turpitude would
effectively end Olmert’s career in light of his age (he will turn 67 on
September 30) and the consequence that he would need to wait seven years before
returning to politics.
There is no guarantee that the court would have
granted the state’s request regarding moral turpitude, but the state’s
postponement of the issue essentially took it off the court’s agenda. Technically, in some circumstances, a court could find moral turpitude on its
own, but it is highly unlikely that the court would stick its neck out to that
extent in a case regarding a former prime minister such as Olmert.
state also asked for the court to sentence Olmert to six months in prison, but
in the same breath said that it would recommend that he serve his sentence
through community service.
The state also asked for a conditional prison
sentence – or a finding that Olmert could get penalized with a longer prison
sentence if he commits a similar crime in the future – and a fine.
the end of the marathon hearing, Olmert responded emotionally to the state’s
requests regarding sentencing.
He said that he had difficulty answering
his grandchildren who had asked him if the negative things that they heard about
him in school were true.
Olmert also said that the whole process had been
an unprecedented assault on him and his family, but that he accepted whatever
the court’s decision would be about his fate, adding that he hoped he could walk
out of the court house standing tall.
Regardless of the outcome on some
of the other issues, Olmert has won – presuming the court is not more upset over
Olmert’s conduct than the state – at least for now, on the two major issues to
be resolved: no ruling on moral turpitude for the foreseeable future and no
In his public argument, the state’s lead attorney in the
case, former Jerusalem district attorney Eli Abarbanel, did not address the
state’s deferral of the issue in depth.
In fact, after noting all of what
he considered Olmert’s improper conduct for over an hour, at midday, Abarbanel
asked for a break before continuing without mentioning the issue.
response to his request for a break, the judges, who looked tired from the long
hearing, perked up and asked when he would address the issue of moral turpitude,
which they and all of the reporters packed into the room had been waiting
At this point Abarbanel, with shocking nonchalance, said that the
issue was not relevant at the moment in light of recent statements by the
During the break, a senior Justice Ministry lawyer involved in
the case said they had not changed their position one iota.
believe that his actions constituted moral turpitude,” said the
The lawyer implied that if Olmert ever decided to run for office
the issue of moral turpitude would be raised.
However, in light of the
fact that Olmert had publicly announced he would give up his benefits as a
former prime minister – including a staff, office, car and covering related
expenses – and that he was not currently a public servant, “there is currently
no reason to ask the court” to hold Olmert’s actions constituted moral
turpitude, the lawyer said.
No one on the prosecution’s legal team
explained how the state would seek a finding of moral turpitude after the court
had already rendered its sentencing order.
A Justice Ministry spokesman
said later in the day that there were plenty of ways the moral turpitude issue
could be raised in the future, such as by the elections board, if Olmert decides
to run for office.
This turn of events was all the more shocking because
the prosecution’s legal team had aggressively and publicly rejected Olmert’s
public “offer” to waive his public servant benefits less than 24 hours
Tuesday afternoon Olmert announced that he would preemptively
give up the public benefits that he would lose if the court issued a finding of
moral turpitude against him – if the state would drop the issue.
hours the state issued a scathing rejection. Its public letter said that Olmert
was not in the driver’s seat on the issue of benefits.
The state said it
would ignore his offer and would seek a finding of moral turpitude because his
actions met the elements for such a finding. As a result of that finding, said
the letter, he would lose his benefits, not because he volunteered.
less than a day later in court, the state had changed its mind. The issue of
moral turpitude will be postponed for another day – or permanently.
hearing also included arguments by the parties regarding the sentencing of Shula
Zaken, Olmert’s former bureau chief.
However, unlike Olmert who made no
real new arguments regarding his sentencing, Zaken – who faces the real prospect
of prison time, having been convicted for graver crimes – brought two character
witnesses who testified about how she went above and beyond to help the common
Jerusalemites when working for Olmert in the mayor’s office.
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