The Jerusalem District Court acquitted former prime minister Ehud Olmert on
Tuesday of the central corruption charges against him and convicted him only of
the minor crime of breach of trust.
In one of the most significant
corruption trials in the country’s history, the court found Olmert not guilty of
wrongdoing in the Rishon Tours affair, the Talansky affair and allegations
regarding misleading the state comptroller, only finding him guilty of a single
charge in the Investment Center affair.
The indictment spanned events
that allegedly took place during 2002-2006, first during Olmert’s tenure as
mayor of Jerusalem and later when he served as a government minister.
the Rishon Tours charge, Olmert was accused of double-billing various nonprofit
organizations for overseas flights and using the extra funds – totaling $92,000
– to pay for private trips for himself and his family, via his Rishon Tours
The court exonerated Olmert in this case, stating that the
evidence presented did not prove the state’s theory that there had been
systematic corruption relating to the double-billing.
The court noted
that there was no uniform method to the double-billing in that sometimes Olmert
obtained funds larger than what was needed for his tickets, sometimes exactly
what was needed and sometimes less than the full price of his tickets.
fact, as the defense had also pointed out, out of 71 trips that Olmert took
abroad during the period in question, the state had only sought to convict him
on double-billing relating to a small number of flights. Furthermore, the court
found that he could have obtained far more funds for private trips than $92,000
if he had been systematically exploiting the double-billing method he was
accused of using.
The court also concluded that some of the questionable
methods that the Rishon Tours agency used in booking flights for Olmert were
independent actions taken without coordinating with him or his office, and of
which he had no knowledge.
In the Talansky affair, Olmert was charged
with receiving $600,000 from American businessman Morris Talansky from
Talansky and other donors gave Olmert money, which was held in
what the indictment referred to as a secret fund, by Olmert’s longtime friend
and former partner Uri Messer. In return, Olmert assisted Talansky in 2004-2005
with various business transactions by asking for favors on Talansky’s behalf
from Israeli businessmen, the indictment said. Olmert had claimed that the funds
were not for personal use, but for political purposes.
The court held
that letters Olmert sent to businessmen Sheldon Adelson, Yitzhak Teshuva and
others were only to help introduce Talansky to them. While noting that the state
had showed a basis for Olmert acting in a way that implicated issues of conflict
of interest, the court ultimately found no real evidence that Olmert used his
powers as a public servant to obtain anything inappropriate for
Regarding the “secret” cash funds being held by Messer for
Olmert, the court concluded that the state had shown that the circumstances were
However, the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt
that the funds were not used for political purposes, which meant the court could
not convict Olmert.
Olmert had also been accused of failing to disclose
donations from US businessman Joe Almaliah to the state comptroller and
misleading the state comptroller regarding the donations.
The court held
that in some instances the state failed to prove any significant connection
between Olmert’s alleged misrepresentations to the state comptroller and the
state comptroller’s evaluation of his actions. In other instances, the court
held that the state had not even proved that Olmert’s statements were
Olmert’s sole conviction was for the most minor of the charges in
the Investment Center affair. Even there, the court did not convict Olmert of
fraud, but only of breach of public trust.
The court convicted Olmert on
the grounds that he did not disqualify himself from oversight over Messer’s
transactions, despite the court’s finding that his connections with Messer rose
to both an economic and personal level that required him to recuse
Next, the court said that it was irrelevant whether Olmert
conceived of his actions as being a violation of the public trust as the
standard for the crime did not require an accused’s knowledge, only that they
act inappropriately. Olmert’s actions fit the latest judicial interpretations
regarding the crime of breach of public trust, the court said. In some
instances, Olmert had taken overt actions to the benefit of Messer, even
contradicting the judgment of all of his bureaucratic staff with no apparent
professional reason for doing so, it added.
Olmert and his attorneys
responded triumphantly to the news of his near complete acquittal.
are judges in Jerusalem,” Olmert said, quoting former prime minister Menachem
Begin and praising the court’s decision, while also emphasizing that it was
clearly a professional, legal decision and that he did not feel that he had been
given special treatment.
In a backhanded slap to the prosecution however,
he also noted that unlike some parties, the court at least knew how to treat him
with respect as a person.
All three of Olmert’s lawyers slammed the state
prosecution for forcing a sitting prime minister to leave office over
Olmert said that he accepted the court’s decision
regarding the “technical” conviction of breach of trust and that he would
seriously take to heart and learn the lessons of the conviction.
conviction was only technical in nature and the court did not find that Olmert
intentionally or systematically violated the public trust or that he committed
fraud, Olmert’s attorneys said.
A defiant Moshe Lador, the state attorney
in the case against Olmert, held a rare press conference on Tuesday evening
defending the state attorney’s role in the case, and said that he would not
resign from his position following the verdict.
“The law requires us to
file indictments where the evidence in our possession leads us to believe there
will be a reasonable chance of conviction,” he said.