Analysis: Whatever happened to Olmert and Holyland trial?

The Liberman effect, fact that former PM out of the political race have contributed to media silence.

The Holyland Tower in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Holyland Tower in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
What happened to the Holyland trial – the greatest corruption trial of all time against former prime minister Ehud Olmert and 15 other major defendants?
How did this massively important case get forgotten? It has been out of news for months. Is a former prime minister on trial not news anymore?
First, the Liberman effect has pushed it out of the news pages somewhat. Liberman (was) a current foreign minister and major player in Israeli politics.
Olmert was a former player – which brings us to point number two.
Olmert’s decision to drop out of the running pushed the trial out of the news. As long as he was a potential comeback kid who could displace Netanyahu, his case had immediate massive importance, besides his former title.
But there is more.
Although the implications of the case are huge, the actual day-to-day of the case is mind-numbingly boring, and impossible to follow for anyone other than lawyers and accountants who have attended every hearing, four times a week, for the last few months.
The trial gets into the super nitty-gritty of how development approvals work for residential units, gardens and sidewalks, trying to trace checks and alleged bribes between at least 16 defendants and their many associates over some 15 years.
Famous lawyers and senior Judge David Rozen are scratching their heads trying to figure out if they agree or disagree with the fantastical fraud story being told by S.D. (as he is referred to under a gag order), the main state witness; and the incredibly complex mathematics that it takes to follow the alleged bribery trail.
In S.D.’s narrative, untold numbers of items marked “loans” and “salary” on official balance sheets were covers for bribes and kickbacks.
On top of that, while the other 15 witnesses are major personalities in their own right, like former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, the real headlines only get made when the case gets into Olmert.
Sitting next to Olmert’s representative who was texting most of the time and doing his best to stay awake, I asked him when Olmert’s attorney would start to cross-examine S.D. He hesitated, looked despairing, then volunteered vaguely: Hopefully in another month or so.
In the famous lawyer movie A Few Good Men, cross-examination ends with lines like “you can’t handle the truth!” Here, a lawyer reads an old transcript for 10 minutes to remind the witness what he told police a year ago and then asks a question – after which the judge asks the lawyer to restate and explain his question because he got lost in the numbers. Next, S.D. gives a long, rambling answer and no one understands whether they agree or disagree with his calculations regarding the alleged bribes.
In the middle, S.D., exasperated at not being understood by anyone, says that everyone should just look at a particular document that explains everything.
Everyone then spends 10 minutes looking through boxes covering half of the courtroom floor, and through innumerable PDF scans of documents to find what S.D. is referring to.
One of the highlights of the hearing is when the judge makes a ruling.
He decides that all of the questions that one of the ancillary defendant’s attorneys has been asking S.D. for the last half-hour were irrelevant and cannot be used in proving any issues in the case.
But Sunday’s hearing, in which Morris Talansky will be guest-starring, is a reminder that this case, even if only once every few months, does still have mammoth implications involving some outsized personalities.
Someday, Olmert himself may even get questioned and cross-examined.
Until then, most of the dozens of journalists from the media pool will be covering other issues, leaving one extremely committed News1 reporter as the sole patient member of the media to track the entire case.