Olmert in court 370.
(photo credit: Pool/Yediot)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert mostly improved his chances for acquittal in
the Holyland trial as he told his side of the story on Sunday and
The primary questions he wanted to address related to
allegations by the state’s main witness, the late Shmuel Duchner, that he had
bribed Olmert to help advance the Holyland real estate project in South
Jerusalem by paying around NIS 1.5 million to Olmert’s bureau chief Shula Zaken
and his brother Yossi.
As a corollary to the allegations that Olmert
asked Duchner to pay NIS 500,000 to Yossi, the former prime minister also had to
answer questions about US businessman Morris Talansky (star witness against
Olmert in his Jerusalem corruption trial) paying $30,000 to Yossi as
For most of the time, Olmert answered well.
prosecution’s main argument for bribery is that there was no other apparent
connection or reason for Duchner to have paid large funds to Zaken and Yossi.
One lump sum to Zaken was allegedly as high as NIS 350,000.
has no need to provide a reason. He only needs to exploit the principle that if
there is any reasonable doubt in the proof against him, he gets
Wherever he could, Olmert denied having received bribes
categorically, slamming his fist in rage and furiously condemning Duchner as a
pathological liar and the prosecution as opportunist.
He accused the
prosecution of going after him with weak evidence, including documents which
Duchner admitted he forged, simply to try to snag a big fish.
could not deny that funds were paid to Zaken and to his brother, since there is
documentary evidence that this occurred, he consistently stated that he had no
knowledge of the payments.
His claim not to have known may appear
questionable, but that is not enough to get a conviction.
Where Yossi had
contradicted himself in ways that could negatively impact on Ehud, he distanced
himself from Yossi, said they were estranged, claimed he had no idea why Yossi
testified in contradictory ways and pointed out that he had no obligation to
represent an estranged brother.
With Talansky, Olmert said he had not
known that Talansky gave Yossi money, but that even if he had, it would have
been perfectly legal since Talansky, unlike Duchner, was a US citizen with no
Israeli business interests and nothing personal to gain from Olmert.
the ship went off course when Olmert's lawyer, Roi Blechner, who generally has
performed well, ignored Judge David Rozen’s repeated suggestions to end his
questioning and move on.
Rather than sitting down, having already worked
with Olmert to present a strong narrative, Blechner kept asking questions on
various side issues to rebut any possible argument that he thought might score
points for the prosecution.
Blechner ignored a time-honored slogan of
lawyers to avoid “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” In other words, if
you are winning, just sit back and relax in order not to provide new
opportunities to make mistakes, particularly when the judge repeatedly suggests
there is no need to continue.
In one series of unnecessary questioning,
Blechner indirectly led Rozen himself toward accusing Zaken of lying about
whether she got funds from Duchner as a bribe for Olmert or for
In one instance, she told police that Duchner gave her the funds
for Olmert, and in another she said it was for her, leading the judge to
conclude that both of her statements could not be true.
Thus Olmert had
to admit that he had noted the “change” in her testimony, to which Rozen
responded, “So you are saying, you agree she lied, but we should excuse her
because it was under pressure?” All this was unnecessary. These were not
Olmert’s contradictions as much as they were Zaken’s, and they certainly did not
need to be the focus of direct examination – when the defense gets to spin
everything its way. But it took Olmert off his game and made him appear less
sure of his side’s narrative.
Olmert is far from vanquished, but each
time he seems to be pulling himself out of this case, his former aid or his
brother –and now, one of his lawyers – does something to undermine his chances.