(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert will go on trial a second time for the Talansky Affair starting September 1. It is a case for which he was originally acquitted in July 2012.
Judges Jacob Zaban and Moshe Sobel will return for the retrial – having been on the original panel – while it was announced on Monday that Judge Rivkah Friedman-Feldman would join as the third judge, replacing Moussia Arad, who retired since the original verdict.
The affair involved allegations that Olmert received large amounts of cash in envelopes from New York businessman Morris Talansky without reporting them to the state comptroller; that he hid the cash in a secret safe belonging to his confidant, Uri Messer; and that some of the money disappeared.
Originally, September 1 was the day Olmert was scheduled to start a six-year prison sentence for his bribery conviction in the separate Holyland Affair.
Now the sentence has been postponed. September 1 will be the start of what could be the darkest chapter yet in his legal difficulties.
The order for the almost unprecedented retrial of the Talansky Affair in the Jerusalem District Court came last week in a dramatic decision by an expanded five-justice panel of the Supreme Court.
The ruling was exceptional not only because it related to Olmert, but because it came over two years after the verdict, and several months after the state’s appeal of the acquittal was fully argued before the same court.
In response, Olmert’s spokesman issued a statement saying: “We respect the decision of the Supreme Court.”
The spokesman said the former prime minister would bring “all of the required evidence,” adding that his defense team was “confident that even after hearing” the new evidence, “which will be fully clarified, there will be no reason to change the decision to acquit Mr. Olmert.”
The five justices on the Supreme Court panel that ordered the retrial were the court’s president, Asher D. Grunis, and Justices Salim Joubran, Uzi Vogelman, Yoram Danziger and Neal Hendel.
Grunis said that retrials at such a late stage should be rare, and rarer still when requested by the state to try to convict a person who has already been acquitted.
Despite writing that the decision should not influence the district court in its retrial, by also writing that “it appears on an initial basis that attempts were made by Olmert to influence [former bureau chief Shula] Zaken not to testify in the [Talansky] trial,” Grunis signaled that Olmert would be facing an uphill battle.
The state began its appeal of Olmert’s acquittal in the fall of 2012. But in May it requested a retrial in light of new evidence revealed in audio recordings provided by Zaken as part of a plea deal in her own trial for the Holyland Affair, for which she was given a lenient 11-month sentence she is now serving.
Despite the extremely late date and the general commitment to finality of lower court decisions once an appeal is filed, the Supreme Court agreed that there were exceptional circumstances and evidence that was substantial enough to justify a retrial.
According to the state, the tapes – from May 2011 (just before Olmert started to testify on the Talansky Affair) and October 2012 (three months after the court acquitted him in the case) – show that the ex-prime minister used illegal means to pressure Zaken into refusing to testify and refusing to cooperate with the state.
The court blocked the state from introducing portions of the tapes it found to be irrelevant.
The state will now get a second chance to try to put into evidence Zaken’s journal, which allegedly helps prove that Olmert received funds from Talansky. Other evidence points to Olmert making personal use of the funds rather than treating them solely as allowable political donations.
Should Olmert be convicted in the Talansky Affair he could have years added to the six-year Holyland sentence.
The retrial will apply only to the Talansky Affair, leaving the state’s appeal of Olmert’s acquittal in the Rishon Tours Affair frozen.
In another case, the so-called Investment Affair, Olmert was convicted only on the most minor of the charges, leading to a slap on the wrist and no jail time.
There are also relatively clear signs that the state will eventually file a new indictment against Olmert, accusing him of obstruction of justice in the Holyland trial and the Investment Affair trial.