A day after he was convicted of taking bribes, lawyers for former prime minister Ehud Olmert were said to be beginning preparations Tuesday to appeal against the verdict.
No formal statement was released confirming that an appeal would be launched, but Olmert’s defense team professed itself astounded by the verdict against their client, and asserted that it did not seem justified, and Hebrew media reports said work on the appeal was beginning or about to begin.
Legal analysts said Olmert faced a lengthy jail term, but that no such sentence would be implemented until all appeal possibilities were exhausted. The former Jerusalem mayor and prime minister faces “years in jail,” said legal analyst David Yiftah. But although a first sentencing hearing is set for April 28, he anticipated a lengthy legal road yet ahead. A former prime minister would not be jailed “on the strength of a single judge’s verdict,” Yiftah told Channel 2 News, referring to Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen, who on Monday convicted Olmert, another former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and eight others in the Holyland real estate scandal.
Olmert’s lawyers said immediately after the verdict was announced that the last word had not yet been said on the case. “The decision hit us like thunder on a clear day,” his defense team wrote in a statement later Monday. “Even now, after reading the decision, the evidence and facts presented to the court are such that Mr. Olmert should have been completely cleared.”
Meanwhile the state prosecution began considering how to move ahead with allegations — leveled by Olmert’s longtime former top aide Shula Zaken, now a potential state’s witness — that Olmert had ttempted to obstruct legal proceedings in the case. Prosecutors struck a plea bargain with Zaken last week, and had asked Rozen to delay issuing his verdict until they could have police question Olmert and call Zaken to give more testimony — a request Rozen rejected.
The judge, in his ruling, indicated that he was not convinced the plea bargain serves the public interest, state prosecutors acknowledged, and it is not clear that he will accept its terms — which stipulate that Zaken, one of the Holyland convicts, will serve no more than 11 months in jail.
One possibility open to the prosecutors is to file new, separate charges of obstruction of justice against Olmert.
Also Tuesday, Yossi Olmert, one of Ehud’s brothers, said he was surprised by the verdict, in which Ehud was convicted of illegally accepting money on his behalf.
“The court verdict hit me like a bolt out of the blue,” said Olmert in a statement through his attorney. “I love my brother very much and it was with deep dismay that I received the verdict.”
Yossi Olmert’s testimony to police was widely seen as central to his brother’s conviction.
“I claimed to the police that I didn’t get the money from the state witness,” Yossi Olmert said. “The police said that they have in their hands the checks that I received from the state witness but till this day not a single check has been presented to me.”
The Tel Aviv District Court on Monday convicted Ehud Olmert, along with nine other former senior officials and businessmen, of taking and giving bribes in the development of the massive Holyland construction project, promoted while Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem over a decade ago.
Holyland is a hulking hilltop development that Jerusalem residents long suspected was tainted by corruption. The case broke in 2010 after Shmuel Dachner, a businessman who was involved in the project, turned state’s witness. Dachner died last year from an illness, in the midst of the trial, and before Olmert’s counsel had completed its cross-examination of him.
Judge Rozen, whose verdict underlined that he broadly accepted Dachner’s testimony and mistrusted Olmert’s, found that the state’s witness gave Olmert’s debt-ridden brother Yossi post-dated checks for NIS 500,000 ($143,000) at Olmert’s behest.
Elie Leshem contributed to this report.