Olmert lawyers to Supreme Court: Respect earlier verdict

Prosecutors try to prove former PM's guilt in Rishon Tours, Talansky cases; outcome likely will determine his political future.

Olmert looking concerned 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post )
Olmert looking concerned 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post )

A five-justice Supreme Court panel headed by court President Asher D. Grunis on Tuesday heard the state’s appeal of former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s acquittals in his Jerusalem corruption trial.
Although the Jerusalem District Court convicted Olmert approximately a year ago of breach of public trust in the Investment Affair, he was acquitted of all the more serious charges in the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs, received no jail time and was fined NIS 75,000. So far, he has not been explicitly prohibited from returning to politics, either.
From the get-go, the court indicated that it was unlikely to reverse Olmert’s acquittal in the Rishon Tours Affair. It urged the state to focus on the Talansky Affair, appearing much more engaged in and asking more questions about that case.
Statistically speaking, appeals are rarely granted, and when a court on appeal indicates less interest in a charge or issue, it is even less likely to grant an appeal on that issue.
While making a variety of arguments for the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s acquittals, one of the state’s main messages was that those acquittals and the light sentence for the one conviction had “sent the wrong message to the public.”
The defense and Olmert’s spokesman aggressively rebutted the state’s allegations, stating that “the appeal never should have been filed” and that “the state’s admission that it appealed because the case ended poorly” spoke “1,000 words” and indicated that the state was mostly being a sore loser.
If Olmert’s acquittals stand, and if the Supreme Court does not make a finding of moral turpitude for breach of public trust – the one minor crime for which Olmert was convicted – he will be done with the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs once and for all.
If he then also emerges clean from the separate and ongoing Holyland trial in Tel Aviv, his path to return to politics after fighting off a myriad of criminal allegations will be clear for the first time in five years.
If the prosecution beats the odds and either convinces the Supreme Court to convict Olmert of a more serious crime or to find him guilty of moral turpitude for the crime of breach of public trust, his political career will be over, at least for another seven years.
There is also an outside shot that the Supreme Court could rule for the state if it feels that the case is “too big to fail” and that a loss could hurt the state’s war against public corruption – something the state indirectly implied by talking about the public receiving “the wrong message.”
Broadly speaking, the state said the lower court had failed to “see the forest for the trees” in its legal conclusions.
The state said that the lower court’s individual conclusions were often sound, and individual acts of alleged corruption might not prove Olmert’s alleged criminal intent and the state’s case, but that the court had unnaturally separated the facts as if analyzing them in a vacuum.
According to the state, this was a mistake, as it meant the lower court had failed to look at the overall context and picture that Olmert’s actions had painted.
At one point, the court pressed the state, appearing somewhat indignant as it asked rhetorically, “Are you saying that any public official who receives funds from a private citizen has committed breach of public trust?” The state essentially said “yes,” while trying to show that Olmert’s case was “more serious since he was a minister” when Talansky gave him funds, and “not just any public servant.”
After the court surprisingly forced the prosecutors to wrap up their arguments in just three hours – they had told The Jerusalem Post beforehand that they planned to argue for seven to eight hours – it was Olmert’s attorneys’ turn to argue that the earlier acquittals should stand and that he should be permitted to reenter public life.
In their initial remarks, Olmert’s lawyers said that Moshe Talansky, the US businessman who allegedly gave Olmert cashstuffed envelopes in exchange for favors, had done so for “Zionist” motives rather than for any personal gain.
They said Talansky had received no public positions and had no business in Israel in over a decade of making what they called “political” donations – clarifying that his motives were pure and not for any kind of quid pro quo.
They dismissed evidence that the state had raised regarding a single telephone call and a single letter which, after over a decade of donations, Olmert had undertaken on Talansky’s behalf, recommending Talansky for various business propositions.
The defense stated that these were examples of mere recommendations, not of Olmert specifically using his power as a public servant to help Talansky.
They added that they were under no obligation to prove Olmert’s innocence, since it was the prosecution that was legally obligated to bear the burden and convince the court.
Following the state’s argument that the same logic the district court had used in the Investment Affair should have led it to convict Olmert in the other affairs, the defense responded that the state’s selective acceptance of the lower court’s rulings in its favor and rejection of the rulings it disliked made no sense.
The justices did press the defense at times regarding the Talansky Affair, questioning Olmert’s attorneys about whether the former prime minister had viable explanations for his failure to report to the state comptroller his receipt of certain cash funds, as well as other irregularities, despite the defense’s contention that the funds were legal political contributions stemming from a Zionist ideology.
The arguments will continue on Thursday.