The Jerusalem District Court is due to sentence former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Monday for his fraud under “aggravated circumstances” conviction in the Talansky retrial.
Olmert was convicted, in March, of illegally receiving and concealing funds alleged to have been more than $600,000 from New York businessman Morris Talansky from 1993 and 2002, in a case itself dating back to 2008.
The conviction was based on the state having proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Olmert had indeed illegally used at least $153,950 of the $600,000 in question.
State prosecutor Uri Korb has asked the court to sentence Olmert to the midpoint of eight-to-18 months – about 13 months – in jail and also has requested that the time be added on to Olmert’s standing six-year jail sentence for his bribery conviction in the Holyland trial, which he has appealed.
Olmert’s lawyers are seeking no jail time and six months of community service.
The retrial involved the Jerusalem District Court’s three-judge panel of Jacob Zaban, Moshe Sobel and Rivkah Friedman-Feldman hearing new evidence based on recordings, a journal and testimony against Olmert by his former top aide-turnedstate’s witness Shula Zaken – none of which was available for his original 2012 trial in which he was acquitted.
The court determined that the new Zaken recordings, her journal and much of her testimony were acceptable as evidence even post-acquittal – so much so that the evidence changed the conclusion from acquittal to conviction.
Zaban’s main decision, with Sobel and Friedman-Feldman agreeing on the conviction but writing separate opinions interpreting the facts, said Zaken had received funds for illegal use at least twice.
Most significantly, the court found that a recording of Olmert telling Zaken she could take funds from the secret safe illegally for her own use contradicted and torpedoed his narrative that he did not know about the funds or assumed they were being used for permitted political purposes.
The court said Olmert’s statements to Zaken in the recordings eliminated the slight doubt they’d had about his awareness of the funds’ illegal use, which had paved the way to his 2012 acquittal.
Zaban also slammed Olmert for failing to testify in the retrial to rebut the new evidence against him, including explaining the recordings, which appeared to show that his testimony in the original case was false.
At his sentencing hearing earlier this month, Olmert, for the first time in all his legal sagas, whispering and practically begging the judges to keep him out of prison, told the three judges “I do not take the conviction lightly” and “I respect the [court’s] decision.”
These final scenes of the retrial were a shocking turn-around for the man who ran the country until 2009 and was a fixture in the country’s halls of power for decades.
Backing up their request for leniency, Olmert and his team have rolled out letters to the court from former British prime minister Tony Blair and former Mossad head Meir Dagan describing the former premier’s contributions to the country.
“Ehud was a leader with a vision both of Israel’s security and of the need for a wider peace in the Middle East,” Blair’s letter stated. “He was tough in ensuring that Israel was protected; and resolute in his belief that peace was an indispensable part of such protection...
The personal relations between me and Ehud went beyond that between heads of government, and were based on friendship and trust with a clear understanding of the needs and sensitivities of the other side. Ehud’s conscious efforts to bring peace with Israel’s neighbors should be admired.”
Dagan’s letter referred to Olmert as “an exceptional prime minister. He made many courageous decisions...which contributed and continue to contribute to the state’s security.”
Dagan added that he had worked with Olmert a lot since 2003, and that they had “worked intensively” together since Olmert became prime minister in 2006.
Korb, however, asked for a harsh sentence, saying Olmert’s actions caused “a loss of public faith” in government, and also referred to the “fantastic amounts” of money with which Olmert had dealt illegally, emphasizing that the court had convicted Olmert not of low-level fraud, but of aggravated fraud, because of the large amounts of illegally used funds, the duration of the violations and his high office.
In contrast, Olmert doubled down on his contributions to the state, pleading with the judges to take that into account. He also stressed that in public service, he had always tried to act for what he thought was “good, right and helpful” for society.
Both Olmert and his lawyer, Eyal Rozovsky, described the years of investigations and the impact on his family – including his grandchildren being asked embarrassing questions – as being punishment enough.
Although the judges listened intently, if not sympathetically, to Olmert at the May 5, it remains to be seen whether they will sympathize with him as a former prime minister, as they did in the original verdict, or whether they will deal with him harshly, given the many who consider him to have hoodwinked the judges in his first trial.
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