(photo credit: REUTERS)
An expanded five justice panel of the Supreme Court is currently hearing the appeal of former prime minister Ehud Olmert to overturn his conviction for bribery in the Holyland real estate trial.
Olmert was convicted on two counts of bribery by Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen in March and sentenced to six years in prison in May.
If the convictions and sentence stand, Olmert’s political career is wiped out, with the earliest he could return to politics being in around 13 years’ time, when he is 82, with a Knesset bill being considered that could push any return off to 20 years.
With a tall tasks at hand, Olmert’s legal team, led by Navit Negev and Iris Niv-Sabag, filed an appeal highly critical of Rozen.
The justices hearing the case include: Justices Salim Jabraun, Neal Hendel, Uzi Vogelman, Yitzhak Amit and Zvi Zilberthal.
Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis is not on the panel since he is retiring in one month and might not be able to finish the case.
The Holyland trial involved 16 defendants, 13 of who were convicted of participating in the biggest bribery scheme in the state’s history.
Most of the defendants were powerful Jerusalem public servants who took bribes to smooth over legal and zoning obstacles for the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem.
The 139-page appeal said that Rozen decided the bribery convictions – one for NIS 500,000 given to the prime minister’s brother, Yossi Olmert, at Ehud Olmert’s request; and one for NIS 60,000 for his benefit through his confidantes Shula Zaken and Uri Messer, at the outset – and then selectively built evidence around that result, ignoring evidence inconsistent with his conclusions.
The appeal explained a number of problems with the narratives of Yossi and Zaken against Olmert and pointed out holes that it said the court ignored.
Olmert’s team lambasted the lead state witness, Shmuel Duchner, as extremely untrustworthy because of his admissions of lying to the court and forging documents presented to the court, and argued that all of his testimony should have been completely thrown out, not cherry-picked.
The defense also claimed that Olmert, unlike some Holyland defendants, had not gotten to fully cross-examine Duchner, since Duchner, in dramatic movie-like fashion, died mid-trial.
The state said he brought no new arguments, and requested that the court first check new tapes and emails the state has acquired before considering granting the appeal. The dramatic new emails and tapes are in addition to the tapes introduced by the state in the ongoing Jerusalem Talansky Affair retrial.
The state’s opposition said that the court only relied on Duchner’s testimony to supplement the prosecution’s case where there was independent evidence to prove its arguments.
Olmert’s arguments on appeal were dressed up as new legal arguments, the state argued, but really were just questioning Rozen’s rulings on factual issues, like witness credibility, which the Supreme Court is not supposed to intervene on since it was not present when the witnesses testified.
If the Supreme Court was entertaining granting the appeal, it should first read an email that Shula Zaken sent to her lawyer, Ofer Bartal, regarding the NIS 500,000 bribe paid by Duchner to Yossi Olmert, the state said. According to the state, the email, sent by Zaken to her lawyer before she testified and long before she cut a deal with the state, confirmed that she had spoken to Duchner about him paying Yossi Olmert the funds at the prime minister’s behest.
Since Zaken was not yet a state’s witness, this email bolsters her in-court testimony on the issue, which Olmert’s lawyers attacked as non-credible. The state said that the court would also want to hear tapes in which Olmert, Zaken and others discuss his role or knowledge of the NIS 60,000 bribe he was convicted for.
Rozen himself had noted in his sentencing opinion that the new evidence significantly strengthened the convictions he had already handed down to Olmert, the state added.
The state also made arguments against overturning convictions for the other defendants, whose appeals are also Monday, such as former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner.