'Olmert verdict irrelevant to Holyland trial'

Justice Ministry say former PM's acquittals won't alter prosecution's position on case.

Ehud Olmert rejoices following court verdict 370 (photo credit: Emile Solomon/ Haaretz)
Ehud Olmert rejoices following court verdict 370
(photo credit: Emile Solomon/ Haaretz)
The Justice Ministry made it clear on Wednesday evening that the prosecution’s position on the Holyland case regarding former prime minister Ehud Olmert would not change, despite criticisms after his dramatic exoneration on unrelated corruption charges a day earlier.
A ministry representative said the prosecution would not reconsider the Holyland indictment, “except for updating it, as is conducted routinely in all cases.”
“In contrast to erroneous reports, yesterday’s verdict is irrelevant to the Holyland affair,” the ministry said.
The comments appeared slightly at odds with remarks made on Wednesday morning by Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri, who told Army Radio that the prosecution would “consider how to deal with the second indictment against [Olmert],” prompting speculation that the State Attorney’s Office may change its position on the case.
“I am convinced that whoever is dealing with [the Holyland case] will do his duty as an attorney, and check whether there are any consequences,” Nizri said, adding that this was “an obligation with regard to all cases.”
Olmert has been charged alongside 15 others – including his former bureau chief Shula Zaken – over the Holyland affair, in which real estate developers allegedly paid tens of millions of shekels to public employees and elected officials to advance the Holyland project in Jerusalem, including by shortening planning times, smoothing over planning objections, rezoning land, granting tax breaks and increasing the permitted amount of construction.
The former prime minister’s press spokesman, Amir Dan, has called for the prosecution to reconsider its position regarding Holyland, particularly in the light of the court ruling on the Talansky affair. Dan argued that the state witness in the Holyland case, known only as “S.D.,” was unreliable, as was US businessman Morris Talansky.
“The court gave a very clear statement about what happens when the prosecution relies on a central witness who lied,” Dan said of the Talansky affair.
He added: “It is vital that the prosecution learn a lesson and that it internalizes the court’s message. In the Holyland case there is a witness who lied so many times that compared to him Talansky is a saint.”
In Tuesday’s ruling on the Talansky case, Judges Moussia Arad, Moshe Sobel and Jacob Zaban wrote that the businessman had been a “controversial witness.”
“Part of his testimony proved correct, but other things [he said] are not correct and even untrue. Some of his testimony was mistaken, confused and sometimes driven by concerns, interests, forgetting and sophistry,” the judges wrote.
As the prosecution begins studying Tuesday’s rulings in earnest, it must also consider whether it will appeal to the Supreme Court the decision to acquit Olmert on the Rishon Tours and Talansky charges.
Olmert’s lawyer attorney Eli Zohar said on Tuesday that it would be “clearly inappropriate” for the prosecution to appeal.
The prosecution will also now consider what penalty to ask that judges impose on Olmert when the court convenes to hear sentencing arguments on September 5.
The former prime minister was found guilty of breach of trust over the Investment Center affair, which centered on allegations that he granted illegal favors to his former law partner, Uri Messer, during his tenure as minister of trade, labor and industry.
In Tuesdays’ ruling, the judges wrote of the Investment Center affair: “We cannot overstate the severity of the damage caused to public confidence in public service.”
The court will likely pass sentence sometime after the September hearing, and its ruling will decide Olmert’s political future.
The Penal Code stipulates that the maximum sentence for breach of trust is three years in prison, but experts have said that the prosecution is unlikely to ask the court to impose jail time on Olmert.
Zohar told reporters on Tuesday that there was no legal precedent for the court to hand down a prison sentence for such a conviction.
The prosecution could, however, ask the court to rule that the offense Olmert was convicted of constitutes moral turpitude. If the court agrees to that request, it will bar Olmert from returning to the Knesset for seven years.
After the court ruling on Tuesday, Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel said the breach of trust conviction was serious and constituted moral turpitude, whereas Olmert’s attorneys said it amounted more to an ethical breach and not a criminal offense.