As Olmert graft trial begins, lawyers get delay until February

As Olmert graft trial be

The first criminal trial of a current or past Israeli prime minister kicked off Friday morning in Jerusalem District Court. The charges against former premier Ehud Olmert include fraudulent receipt of goods, false registration of corporate documents, fraud, breach of trust, and tax evasion in the Rishon Tours scandal, the Talansky cash envelopes affair, and the Investment Center case. Friday's preliminary court session was mostly procedural, and dealt with the defense team's request to postpone the next stage of the trial until April. The judge decided to compromise, ruling that the trial would resume on February 22 and take place three times a week - on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Following the court session, Eli Zohar, one of Olmert's lawyers, denied that the defense team's request amounted to foot-dragging. "We need the time so that we can obtain the same case material as the prosecution," he told reporters, adding that some of the material still needed to be sent from the US. "It's not foot-dragging, we just want the trial to be conducted in the normal way." Zohar appeared satisfied with the court's decision, saying, "We asked for the trial to begin in April, and the court compromised." Likewise, another of Olmert's lawyers, Navot Tel-Tzur, said the time was needed to get all the case material, since "they need to enable a fair trial... it's in the public's interest." The indictment included a staggering 280 witnesses, he said. In November, the court will hold two hearings in which the case material will be presented, and a month later, on December 21, Olmert will be asked to respond to the indictment. Shula Zaken, Olmert's former bureau chief, was also on trial Friday for her alleged roles in the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. On her way out of court, Zaken merely gave reporters the Yom Kippur greeting of gmar hatima tova and said, "It's going to be okay." On his way into court, Olmert told reporters that he had been subject to "an almost inhumane three years of slander and interrogations," and that he had "paid a heavy price" for the allegations, referring to his resignation as prime minister. "But the time has come for the facts, and the facts only," he said. "I have arrived here as a completely innocent man, and I believe I'll leave here a completely innocent man." Also making his way into the courthouse was Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel. "This case has finally got to court after a-year-and-a-half," he told reporters. "This is the best place in which the facts and legal claims can be cleared up. This is the place to conduct a comprehensive, professional hearing. The verdict will be given here and I really hope the trial will be a professional one." Asked about the absence of State Attorney Moshe Lador, Abarbanel said he could not attend the session due to "personal reasons." In an interview on the BBC's Hard Talk program on Thursday, Olmert said he had full confidence that he would be proven not guilty. "I am innocent," he said. "I look at some of my colleagues, my former colleagues in different Western countries in Europe. They were charged with similar accusations and in the end, nothing happened. And I am absolutely certain that this will be the outcome of this particular case."•