Former prime minister Ehud Olmert went on the offensive on Thursday – his second day of testimony at his Jerusalem District Court trial on a series of corruption charges – hurling severe criticism at State Attorney Moshe Lador, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, and rival politicians.
He painted a harsh picture of a concerted attack against him from the moment he became prime minister in 2006, intimated that the newspaper Yisrael Hayom had been established to bring down his government, and claimed he could have made dramatic diplomatic headway with Syria and the Palestinians had he not been forced from office over the corruption allegations – all of which he insisted were false.
Olmert takes to the stand in ongoing corruption trial
Olmert: I am fighting for my life
If Olmert’s first day on the stand on Tuesday could be characterized as a pleasurable stroll down memory lane, with Olmert telling his life story and recounting anecdotes from his early political life, Thursday’s testimony saw him on the warpath.
Olmert described how he faced attacks against him from the start of his term as prime minister.
“I entered the post on January 4 [as acting prime minister] and 10 days later the campaign started,” he said, referring to the allegations concerning illegalities relating to his apartment in Jerusalem.
“The state comptroller was asked to investigate the sale and announced that he would. This of course immediately made the headlines, as if there was nothing more important going on in the world, or on our national agenda.”
Olmert said that when the state comptroller issued a report on the sale in 2006, he found no wrongdoing.
He criticized Lindenstrauss for the many investigations he opened against him and the announcements of those investigations to the media.
“I don’t recall the state comptroller publishing five or six reports a year against one person, no matter which position he filled,” the former prime minister said.
Olmert said Lindenstrauss was wrong to make public announcements about his intentions to investigate him.
“I served in public positions for 30 years. I don’t remember that the state comptroller would announce ahead of time that he would launch a probe into every slightest trifle. The very announcement turns it into an affair,” he said.
Olmert also described a relentless attack against him by Lador, saying “the prosecution portrayed me as a serial criminal, even though there was no evidence against me.”
He said Lador was convinced of his guilt and sought to present him as a felon even before the investigation was complete. He told of how Lador had asked that Olmert sit in the defendant’s dock during the preliminary testimony of New York businessman Moshe Talansky, from whom Olmert is accused of receiving bribes – a request that the judges denied.
Olmert said Lador crossed a line when he said before Talansky’s hearing that Talansky needed to give early testimony because he feared his life was at risk.
“There is something that I can’t let go of and I won’t be able to until I receive clarification: I have to know how it could be that the state attorney can come to the court and say that someone feared for his life. Who is he afraid of? The prime minister?” Olmert asked.
He adamantly denied ever receiving bribes from Talansky.
“I did not accept a bribe from Talansky. I did not hide a bribe with [former law partner] Uri Messer. I said it to the investigators, and I’ll say it today,” Olmert stated, yelling and banging on a table.
The former prime minister also came out against the police, complaining of continuous leaks about his investigations that made their way to the media.
When asked if he believed that someone was behind all the probes opened against him, Olmert said he didn’t know, but that someone had founded a newspaper in Israel in order to topple his government. This was apparently a reference to Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Binyamin Netanyahu Yisrael Hayom newspaper.
Throughout his testimony, Olmert recounted experiences from the time of his premiership (2006-2009) and before it. He spoke about his decision to leave the Likud and, together with Ariel Sharon, to form the Kadima Party; about the moment he heard about Sharon’s stroke; his entrance into the role of prime minister; and decisions that he made while in the post.
Olmert said that if it wasn’t for the investigations that had forced him out of office, things would have been different on the diplomatic front. He said that before the police recommended he be charged, Israel was on the verge of entering direct negotiations with Syria, and that only four days before his resignation he had offered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an offer for a final peace.
“We were on the verge of holding a joint press conference with Turkey announcing the start of direct negotiations with Syria that, had they taken place, could have been completed rapidly,” Olmert added.
He also discussed the capture of soldier Gilad Schalit during his tenure as prime minister, calling it a “traumatic event,” and saying that it accompanied him daily.
The government “did things that we can’t talk about” to try to free Schalit, he said.
Olmert’s lawyer Navot Tel- Zur summed up the day’s testimony, saying “We
were all shocked by the picture we were presented today by the former
prime minister’s testimony.
“Olmert was not given even an hour’s grace as prime minister. The height
was the Talansky affair, which was made public despite a gag order and
put the whole country into disarray.
There was a feeling of a witch-hunt and a fixed game, where he had no
chance before the police and the prosecution. The testimony should raise
alarms in the law enforcement authorities,” Tel-Zur said.
Olmert’s testimony is scheduled to take place over an entire month, in full-day hearings twice a week.