State appeals Olmert acquittal to Supreme Court

If appeal is successful, the former PM could be convicted of harsher crimes, putting his political future into question.

Olmert, Zaken 370 (photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
Olmert, Zaken 370
(photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
The State Attorney’s Office filed a Supreme Court appeal against the acquittals and light sentence of former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday night, possibly putting his highly speculated political future into jeopardy.
If the state wins at the Supreme Court level, Olmert could be convicted of harsher crimes than he was at trial, and could even end up going to jail.
The decision could have tremendous repercussions on the upcoming elections, which Olmert has considered taking part in as a challenger to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
That said, the appeal in and of itself, does not legally prevent Olmert from running, however more complicated it makes his political fortunes and clouds his future in the event of additional convictions.
Although the state attorney first announced three weeks ago its intention to appeal the acquittals for the central corruption charges, it did not specify, until filing the appeal, which charges it would be appealing.
In the end, the appeal attacks Olmert’s acquittals for most of the main charges in both the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs. The appeal also asks to overturn Olmert’s acquittal on charges that he misled the state comptroller regarding funds he received as part of the Talansky Affair.
There were some more minor charges dropped from the appeal that had been part of the original indictment.
Olmert was convicted in the Jerusalem District Court only of the minor crime of breach of trust in the Investment Affair.
The last part of the appeal asks to give Olmert a harsher sentence for this conviction.
The Jerusalem District Court did not give Olmert any community service as requested by the state, but only sentenced him to a conditional sentence, plus a NIS 75,000 fine.
The state also appealed former Olmert confidante Shula Zaken’s acquittals in the Rishon Tours case, partially ending speculation that she would cooperate with the state in the Holyland case in exchange for the state not appealing the acquittals.
The state also asked that Zaken receive a harsher sentence for her convictions, for which she had received a light sentence.
Regarding the Rishon Tours Affair, the state said the lower court had agreed with almost all of the state’s factual findings.
The state said there could be no reasonable doubt that Olmert knowingly committed fraud, in light of the fact that the affair involved over $90,000 in double-bookings of plane flights by his staff on his behalf, and that he had been deeply involved in the working of his staff and written correspondence to those non-profit institutions paying for his flights.
Whereas the lower court found that in spite of the situation being problematic, it still could not preclude other possibilities besides Olmert knowing of the fraud, the state said the Supreme Court should find that the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt had been met.
In essence, the state said that the lower court had held it to an even higher and impossible standard than beyond a reasonable doubt in its conclusions about the evidence, particularly since the court found the state’s summation of the facts more convincing than Olmert’s.
Similarly, in the Talansky Affair, the state said the court had again entertained wildly unlikely scenarios to acquit Olmert and to conclude that the state’s evidence did not meet the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.
According to the appeal, the court found that Olmert had received huge amounts of cash, at least hundreds of thousands of dollars worth, from American Moshe Talansky.
The state argued that Olmert’s old friend and associate, attorney Uri Messer, held most of the funds in a secret safe, and that the safe was secretly administered only by Zaken, making it impossible to say that Olmert had no knowledge that he was committing fraud.
In both cases, the state had evidentiary problems since none of Olmert’s staff or associates would cooperate with the state and the court considered the only witness against him, Talansky, problematic in terms of credibility.
Whereas the court had acquitted Olmert for not reporting the Talansky funds to the state comptroller, holding that at most Olmert had omitted doing something he should have done – reporting the funds.
But an “omission” could not be construed as an affirmative act, which was required for a conviction, the court ruled.
In the appeal, the state said the absence of reporting of so many transfers, such a large volume of funds and of actively hiding the funds in a secret safe, qualified as enough to sustain a conviction.
Finally, the appeal challenged the lower court’s basis for giving Olmert a light sentence in the Investment Affair.
The court convicted Olmert for making decisions that helped friends and associates of his regardless of his clear conflict of interest, but refused to give him any community service, saying that his being toppled from the premiership and four years fighting in court demanded a more lenient sentence.
Although the court said his breach of public trust conviction was not a mere “technical” error, it also noted that he had been acquitted for the Talansky Affair, the charges which led to his downfall as prime minister.
The court viewed this fact as being a particular injustice to Olmert.
In contrast, the state, in its appeal, quoted the Supreme Court in its refusal to reduce former president Moshe Katsav’s sentence for rape from seven years in prison.
In that opinion, the Supreme Court says that Katsav’s very high position makes it even more important that he receive no special leniency to emphasize that there is one law for all.
The state noted that it recognized that the nature of Katsav’s crimes differ significantly from Olmert’s crimes, but that like Olmert, Katsav was also convicted of additional crimes which were not the ones that led to him being toppled from the presidency.
Meanwhile, Olmert positioned himself for a political comeback, slamming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a meeting with Jewish community leaders in New York on Wednesday.
Olmert’s associates have said that he will decide on his political future following the US election, and US President Barack Obama’s reelection is encouraging to the former prime minister. He is expected to make an announcement soon after he returns to Israel after November 15.
“Netanyahu’s behavior in recent months brings up the question if Netanyahu has a friend in the White House, and I’m not sure,” Olmert said.
“This could be very critical in certain areas.”
Olmert also criticized Netanyahu for turning Israel into a partisan issue.
“The prime minister has a right to prefer one candidate over another, but it would be better, obviously if he kept it to himself. What took place this time was a breaking of all the rules, when our prime minister intervened in the US elections in the name of an American billionaire,” Olmert added, in reference to Jewish- American casino magnate and Yisrael Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to Republican candidate Mitt Romney and Netanyahu.
Obama was a friend to Israel before his reelection, and will continue to be a friend to Israel, Olmert concluded.