An expanded five-justice panel of the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered an almost unprecedented retrial of the Talansky affair, in which former prime minister Ehud Olmert was previously acquitted on corruption charges.
The order for a retrial by the Jerusalem District Court was exceptional not only because it relates to Olmert, but also because it comes over two years after the verdict and several months after the state’s appeal of his acquittal was fully argued before the same court.
In response, Olmert’s spokesman issued a statement saying, “We respect the decision of the Supreme Court,” adding Olmert will bring “all of the required evidence, and we are confident that even after hearing” the new evidence “which will be fully clarified, there will be no reason to change the decision to acquit Mr. Olmert.”
The five justices on the panel are Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis and Justices Salim Joubran, Uzi Vogelman, Yoram Danziger and Neal Hendel.
Grunis said that it was rare to retry cases at such a late stage, and rarer still when requested by the state to try to convict a person who has been acquitted.
However, despite Grunis’s writing that the Supreme Court’s decision should not influence the district court in its retrial, by also writing that “it appears on an initial basis that attempts were made by Olmert to influence Zaken not to testify in the [Talansky] trial,” he signaled that Olmert will face an uphill battle.
The judges on the Jerusalem District Court who are to conduct the retrial will include two of the original judges on the panel, Jacob Zaban and Moshe Sobel.
However, highlighting how much time has passed since the verdict, the lead judge on the case, Moussia Arad, will need to be replaced, as she retired some time ago.
The state had appealed the acquittal in the fall of 2012. But in May, the state asked to hold off its own appeal, requesting instead a retrial in light of new evidence revealed in audio recordings provided by Olmert’s powerful former bureau chief, Shula Zaken.
Despite the extreme late date of the request and the general commitment to finality of lower court decisions once an appeal is filed, the Supreme Court agreed that there were exceptional circumstances and substantial enough evidence to justify a retrial.
Olmert has already been sentenced to six years in prison for taking bribes in the separate Holyland real estate affair.
He appealed the decision and will not be starting his prison sentence as was originally ordered, possibly with a delay of months or years until that appeal is decided.
Should he be convicted in the retrial of the Talansky affair, he could potentially have years added to the sixyear Holyland sentence.
The Talansky affair involved Olmert allegedly receiving large amounts of cash in envelopes from New York businessman Morris Talansky, not reporting them to the state comptroller, hiding them in his confidante Uri Messer’s secret safe and some of the money disappearing.
The retrial only applies to the Talansky affair, leaving the state’s appeal of his acquittal in the Rishon Tours affair frozen pending the retrial.
Olmert was acquitted of the charges in July 2012, but the tapes provided by Zaken, as part of a plea deal that saw her receive a lenient 11-month prison sentence in the Holyland affair, prompted the justices to retry the case.
According to the state, the tapes – from May 2011 (just before Olmert started to testify on the Talansky affair) and October 2012 (three months after the court acquitted him in the case) – show that Olmert used illegal means to pressure Zaken into refusing to testify and refusing to cooperate with the state.
The state will also get a second chance to try to put into evidence Zaken’s journal, which allegedly helps prove Olmert’s receiving funds from Talansky, with all of the above proving also that Olmert got funds from Talansky for personal use and not just as permitted political donations.
The court blocked the state from introducing portions of the tapes that it found to be irrelevant.