Analysis: Possible charges and possible defense

What we can expect from the Olmert case.

Olmert 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The state's description of the allegations against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the new investigation has been formulated in broad terms and does not, at this point, constitute specific charges. According to the statement issued by spokesmen for the Justice Ministry and the police on Thursday night, "the investigation deals with the suspicion that money was received illegally. According to the suspicion, Mr. Olmert received significant sums of money from a foreign source, or foreign sources, over a long period of time. He received some of the money directly and some indirectly." Going beyond the official statement, the most serious suspicion against Olmert was that he received bribes either from his friend, Morris Talansky, or from other sources who funneled the money to him via Talansky. According to Article 290 (a) of the Penal Law, "If a public servant takes a bribe for an act connected to his functions, he is liable to seven years imprisonment." Haifa University law Prof. Emmanuel Gross explained to The Jerusalem Post that in order to constitute a crime, the recipient of the gift must be aware that the money was given to him as a bribe. Another condition of the law is that the "return" that the public servant gives to the giver of the bribe does not have to be immediate. It is enough that both sides understand that the "return" is part of the unwritten deal between them and will eventually be given. According to Gross, since bribes are inevitably given in secret and often without any documentation, it is difficult to prove the bribery act directly. Thus, circumstantial evidence or "signs" are often used to back up the charge. In the new Olmert case, there are several "signs" according to Gross. One of them is that the money that Olmert received was given in cash. This fact was not included in the Justice Ministry and police statement but has been reported in the media. It is unusual to give out "significant" sums of money in cash, and it can be taken as an indication that the giver and receiver did not want to leave any record of the transactions between them. The fact that the money was given in cash would also have made it easier for Olmert to merge it with other private funds in order to conceal it. Another "sign" is that money was allegedly given to Olmert by Talansky, a businessman with interests in Israel. According to reports, Talansky tried to market mini-bars in Israeli hotels and is a partner in a spy satellite project operated by the ImageSat Company, which is owned in part by Israel Aerospace Industries and by a group of private investors including Talansky. Olmert has insisted that all the money he received went to finance a series of election campaigns including his run for the Jerusalem mayoralty, primaries for head of the Likud Party and the primaries for the slate of Likud Party candidates to the 16th Knesset. He said he had not taken a single penny for himself. The law is unclear about election financing for primary campaigns. There are limits on the amount of money that a candidate may receive during the nine months before the election, but the law does not say anything about receiving contributions for campaigns in the interim years. This, apparently, is the defense line that Olmert will take should the case come to trial. He will likely argue that the law does not prohibit him from accepting contributions of any size for election campaigns outside the nine-month limitation. But according to Gross, there is also a law against public servants receiving gifts, the 1979 Public Service Law (Gifts). According to the law, "If a public servant receives a gift because of his position, whether in Israel or abroad, whether it was given to him or to his partner or dependent children, and the public servant did not refuse to accept it or did not return it immediately, the gift will become the property of the state." The law goes on to say that a public servant who does not inform the state that he has received a gift, will pay a fine worth three times the value of the gift he tried to conceal. In December 2004 President Shimon Peres received $320,000 for his primary campaign for leadership of the Labor Party from three Jewish donors living abroad. While the size of the donations was in clear violation of the Political Parties Law, Peres claimed that they were given to him before the nine-month limit began. The state did not try him for violating the Public Service Law (Gifts).