Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert waits to hear his verdict at the Tel Aviv District Court, March 31, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Until Thursday, it was unclear how slim former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s chances were of getting the Supreme Court to overturn his March convictions for bribery in the Holyland trial.
Though the evidence against him was considerable and it was hard to see why the court would let him off while (according to many predictions) upholding the convictions of the other nine convicted defendants in the bribery scheme, he also had some strong arguments.
Portions of the evidence against Olmert and much of the general narrative were based on the state’s main witness, the colorful Shmuel Duchner, who admitted at trial that he was a serial liar and document forger.
Olmert’s lawyers also attacked the lower court for relying on his brother Yossi Olmert’s statements to police, which hurt Ehud Olmert’s case, over Yossi’s testimony at trial, which was less one-sided.
Then Olmert’s legal team showed up Thursday and threw much of its playbook out the window – never a good sign.
Olmert’s legal team took a dramatic U-turn, suddenly denying that Yossi had ever received an NIS 500,000 bribe, though they had previously agreed during the trial that Yossi had received the funds.
At trial, they had only disputed whether Ehud knew about it and Yossi’s contradictory testimony about what Ehud did or did not know.
The issue is crucial as one of the two main foundations to Olmert’s bribery convictions was that Duchner, who turned state’s witness after having served as the middleman who paid off politicians to get them to move the Holyland real estate project forward, gave Yossi the NIS 500,000 at Ehud’s behest, for Ehud’s help with the Holyland project.
The 180 degree change in narrative post-sentencing and at the appeal stage took the expanded five-justice Supreme Court panel by surprise and they blasted his lawyers on the point repeatedly.
Despite Olmert’s lawyers’ heroic attempts to parse and reinterpret earlier statements they made at trial, there is no way to look at this complete attempt to change the narrative other than that they concluded that they could not win sticking to their game plan.
But the chances that the Supreme Court will give them a pass on such a late change are close to zero.
The other massive change Olmert made at the start of this week was in the retrial of the Talansky Affair.
His lawyers suddenly announced that he would not testify or contradict all of the immensely damaging testimony and tape recordings flung at him by his former top aide turned accuser, Shula Zaken.
His legal team, which until now said he would be beating back Zaken’s claims and giving context to the damaging tape recordings of his conversations with her, tried to explain this change as being based on the interpretation that the Supreme Court had meant the retrial to be on narrow grounds.
But the state jumped on the change on Thursday.
It wrote to the court that Olmert’s withdrawal from testifying on the new allegations against him count as a refusal to testify in the case (though he testified at the original trial), prevents his defense team from contradicting aspects of the tapes and, under evidentiary principles, strengthens the veracity of the allegations against him.
Most notably, the state drew attention to Olmert’s not testifying as showing his fear of what would happen to him on the stand if he had to try to explain the, at the very least, non-flattering recordings, which the whole country is now familiar with.
Olmert has not yet lost his Holyland appeal or the Talansky retrial, but his legal teams’ erratic and longshot-style moves this week show that even he now sees he is on the ropes.