Former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday filed a strident appeal with the Supreme Court to overturn his bribery convictions and six-year prison sentence.
Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen handed down the convictions and the sentence on March 31 and May 13, respectively.
If they stand, Olmert’s political career is wiped out with the earliest he could return being in around 13 years, when he is 82, with a Knesset bill being considered that could push any return off to 20 years when he is 89.
With a tall task at hand, Olmert’s legal team, led by Navit Negev and Iris Niv-Sabag, recently added to a team already including top lawyer Eli Zohar, showed no more mercy for Rozen than he had shown for Olmert, with a massive personal and legal onslaught.
The Holyland trial involved 16 defendants, 13 of whom 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 says that Rozen decided on the bribery convictions, one for NIS 500,000 in funds given at the request of Ehud Olmert to his brother Yossi, and one for NIS 60,000 paid for Ehud Olmert’s 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.
Olmert’s team lambasted state lead witness Shmuel Duchner as untrustworthy to such an extreme because of his admissions of lying to the court and forging documents presented to the court, that all of his testimony should have been thrown out, not cherry-picked for some portions being true and some not.
Duchner, a colorful and controversial character in that he was the front man who gave the politicians the bribes and turned state’s witness in exchange for immunity and money from the state, died mid-trial in March 2013 while Olmert’s team was in the middle of cross-examining him.
On that point, Olmert’s team said the fact that it did not get to fully cross-examine Duchner was another reason to throw out his testimony, since Olmert did not have the fundamental right of confronting his accuser.
A major source of criticism was that the court should not have relied on Yossi Olmert’s police statements over his trial testimony.
Yossi’s police statements were highly incriminating for Ehud, but he backtracked from them in his trial testimony.
The appeal said that the testimony of Yossi and another witness, Avraham Natan, were not enough for convictions, and that Rozen unjustifiably relied mostly on Duchner, though Rozen tried to conceal this by mentioning their testimony as independent evidence.
The team also hit Yossi Olmert as having improper motivations to agree with police so they would not investigate him, which could lead to his US work visa being canceled (Yossi is in exile in the US afraid of retribution in Israel for debts in the millions of shekels).
Further, the appeal said Rozen ignored other possibilities on the NIS 500,000, such as that Duchner did give Yossi Olmert money, but Ehud Olmert did not know and cannot be held culpable and the fact that no record of the bribery checks Duchner supposedly gave to Yossi exists.
The appeal also made several points about the NIS 60,000 conviction.
Regarding the six-year prison sentence, the appeal slammed Rozen for ignoring his own conclusion that most of the bribe money went to Yossi, quoting Ecclesiastes that one who breaks his bread with others will be rewarded, meaning Ehud Olmert should have gotten leniency since the bribery did not go into “his pocket.”
The appeal complained that Rozen treated Olmert’s punishment as if it related to the full NIS 1.5 million he was accused of taking as bribes, most of which was thrown out as beyond the statute of limitations, such that it should have not been taken into consideration.
Next, the appeal said that the punishment greatly departed from the courts’ prior decisions, ignored 10 years passing since the bribes were given, and only framed Olmert’s high office as a negative factor and not as a positive factor for his contributions to the state, ignored the cost to Olmert politically and to his family, and ignored the fact that Rozen acquitted Olmert of two other bribery charges.
Finally, the appeal said that the sentence lacked the combination of justice and mercy promised by Rozen, made most clear by Rozen’s harsh negative language for Olmert, such as referring to his corruption as the acts of a “traitor” to the public’s faith.