The defense team for Ehud Olmert was not expecting the former prime minister to be convicted on graft charges, they said Monday evening.
Earlier in the day, Olmert became the first former prime minister in the country’s history to be convicted on criminal charges. He was convicted, along with nine other former senior officials and businessmen, of taking and giving bribes in the development of the Holyland residential project promoted while mayor of the city over a decade ago.
But his defense team said the verdict caught them off guard, and even after perusing the full decision by the Tel Aviv District Court, they don’t understand how he was convicted.
“The decision hit us like thunder on a clear day,” his defense team wrote in a statement released to the press. “Even now, after reading the decision, the evidence and facts presented to the court are such that Mr. Olmert should have been completely cleared.”
The verdict, and what legal experts predict will bring a lengthy prison sentence, appeared to put an end to Olmert’s lingering hopes of making a comeback to national politics, but the prevailing theme coming from the Olmert camp was that “the last word” has not been spoken in the case.
“We will weigh our options going forward,” lead defense attorney Roy Blecher said outside the courtroom. “The last word has not been said. Today is not just about Mr. Olmert. We will read the 700-page verdict and prepare accordingly for sentencing.”
Sentencing is set for April 28.
Olmert’s spokesman Jacob Galanti vowed to appeal, the Haaretz news website reported
Olmert spokesman Amir Dan echoed Belcher’s sentiments, adding that Olmert was also acquitted of two key counts.
“This is obviously not an easy day,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for the court. You have to remember that the court acquitted Olmert on two main counts. The verdict was based on a state’s witness that the court declared was a forger and a liar and whom we did not have time to cross-examine. We will study the verdict carefully, and this is not the final word.”
Another attorney for Olmert, Eli Zohar, pointed out that the court had determined that the former prime minister had never “put money into his own pocket.”
The trial, which included 16 defendants and took place over two years, was linked to the construction of the massive Holyland residential complex when Olmert served as the city’s mayor.
In 2010, Olmert was named the key suspect on suspicion that he received hundreds of thousands of shekels for helping developers get the construction project past various legal and planning obstacles.
The towering construction project, which dominates the city’s skyline, is seen as a major blot on the landscape and widely reviled as a symbol of high-level corruption.
“We’re talking about corrupt and filthy practices,” Judge David Rosen said in the 700-page verdict, which branded Olmert as a liar.
The conviction puts a dramatic end to Olmert’s long political career, which was dogged by corruption allegations but which — until Monday — rarely stuck.
Without a natural rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Olmert was often mentioned as a potential center-left alternative, should he survive his legal woes.
Olmert faces a maximum prison term of seven years. Under Israeli law, he would have to wait at least seven years after serving his sentence to run for office. Even if he somehow wins an appeal, he has become so tainted that a comeback is virtually impossible, said Tamir Sheafer, a professor of political science at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
“He had to come out as pure as snow to carry on,” Sheafer said.