A five-justice Supreme Court panel headed by court President Asher D. Grunis on
Tuesday heard the state’s appeal of former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s
acquittals in his Jerusalem corruption trial.
Although the Jerusalem
District Court convicted Olmert approximately a year ago of breach of public
trust in the Investment Affair, he was acquitted of all the more serious charges
in the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs, received no jail time and was fined
NIS 75,000. So far, he has not been explicitly prohibited from returning to
From the get-go, the court indicated that it was
unlikely to reverse Olmert’s acquittal in the Rishon Tours Affair. It urged the
state to focus on the Talansky Affair, appearing much more engaged in and asking
more questions about that case.
Statistically speaking, appeals are
rarely granted, and when a court on appeal indicates less interest in a charge
or issue, it is even less likely to grant an appeal on that issue.
making a variety of arguments for the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s
acquittals, one of the state’s main messages was that those acquittals and the
light sentence for the one conviction had “sent the wrong message to the
The defense and Olmert’s spokesman aggressively rebutted the
state’s allegations, stating that “the appeal never should have been filed” and
that “the state’s admission that it appealed because the case ended poorly”
spoke “1,000 words” and indicated that the state was mostly being a sore
If Olmert’s acquittals stand, and if the Supreme Court does not
make a finding of moral turpitude for breach of public trust – the one minor
crime for which Olmert was convicted – he will be done with the Rishon Tours and
Talansky affairs once and for all.
If he then also emerges clean from the separate and ongoing Holyland trial in
Tel Aviv, his path to return to politics after fighting off a myriad of criminal
allegations will be clear for the first time in five years.
prosecution beats the odds and either convinces the Supreme Court to convict
Olmert of a more serious crime or to find him guilty of moral turpitude for the
crime of breach of public trust, his political career will be over, at least for
another seven years.
There is also an outside shot that the Supreme Court
could rule for the state if it feels that the case is “too big to fail” and that
a loss could hurt the state’s war against public corruption – something the
state indirectly implied by talking about the public receiving “the wrong
Broadly speaking, the state said the lower court had failed to
“see the forest for the trees” in its legal conclusions.
The state said
that the lower court’s individual conclusions were often sound, and individual
acts of alleged corruption might not prove Olmert’s alleged criminal intent and
the state’s case, but that the court had unnaturally separated the facts as if
analyzing them in a vacuum.
According to the state, this was a mistake,
as it meant the lower court had failed to look at the overall context and
picture that Olmert’s actions had painted.
At one point, the court
pressed the state, appearing somewhat indignant as it asked rhetorically, “Are
you saying that any public official who receives funds from a private citizen
has committed breach of public trust?” The state essentially said “yes,” while
trying to show that Olmert’s case was “more serious since he was a minister”
when Talansky gave him funds, and “not just any public servant.”
the court surprisingly forced the prosecutors to wrap up their arguments in just
three hours – they had told The Jerusalem Post beforehand that they planned to
argue for seven to eight hours – it was Olmert’s attorneys’ turn to argue that
the earlier acquittals should stand and that he should be permitted to reenter
In their initial remarks, Olmert’s lawyers said that Moshe
Talansky, the US businessman who allegedly gave Olmert cashstuffed envelopes in
exchange for favors, had done so for “Zionist” motives rather than for any
They said Talansky had received no public positions and
had no business in Israel in over a decade of making what they called
“political” donations – clarifying that his motives were pure and not for any
kind of quid pro quo.
They dismissed evidence that the state had raised
regarding a single telephone call and a single letter which, after over a decade
of donations, Olmert had undertaken on Talansky’s behalf, recommending Talansky
for various business propositions.
The defense stated that these were
examples of mere recommendations, not of Olmert specifically using his power as
a public servant to help Talansky.
They added that they were under no
obligation to prove Olmert’s innocence, since it was the prosecution that was
legally obligated to bear the burden and convince the court.
the state’s argument that the same logic the district court had used in the
Investment Affair should have led it to convict Olmert in the other affairs, the
defense responded that the state’s selective acceptance of the lower court’s
rulings in its favor and rejection of the rulings it disliked made no
The justices did press the defense at times regarding the Talansky
Affair, questioning Olmert’s attorneys about whether the former prime minister
had viable explanations for his failure to report to the state comptroller his
receipt of certain cash funds, as well as other irregularities, despite the
defense’s contention that the funds were legal political contributions stemming
from a Zionist ideology.
The arguments will continue on Thursday.