Olmert acquitted of central corruption charges

Former PM quotes Begin: There are judges in Jerusalem; Lador won’t resign.

Ehud Olmert speaks following verdict (photo credit: Screenshot)
Ehud Olmert speaks following verdict
(photo credit: Screenshot)
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.
In 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 travel agency.
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.
In 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 1993-2005.
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 Talansky.
Regarding the “secret” cash funds being held by Messer for Olmert, the court concluded that the state had shown that the circumstances were problematic.
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 untrue.
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 himself.
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.
“There 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 “aesthetic” charges.
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.
The 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.