Ehud Olmert’s conviction for breaching public trust is a “grave” offense, indicative of “patently unacceptable” conduct of the former prime minister during his term in office, State Attorney Moshe Lador said Tuesday evening.
He further asserted that the State Attorney’s Office should not be impugned by the media following Olmert’s acquittal of the more serious charges leveled against him.
Lador said he would not resign, and made no comment about any possible appeal.
“It is our public service to press charges when there is a reasonable chance of conviction,” Lador told reporters, responding to mounting criticism against him after the Jerusalem District Court cleared Olmert of charges of double billing for trips abroad in what was known as the Rishon Tours case, and of charges of illegally taking money from American businessman Morris Talansky.
“Today the first stage ended,” the state attorney began. “We must study the verdict in which the former prime minister was found guilty of a criminal offense,” he said, advising the journalists in attendance to read the ruling themselves instead of “settling for reports.”
Lador acknowledged that Olmert was exonerated in two out of the three cases, but stressed the severity of the breach of trust charge of which Olmert was found guilty, and maintained that it was his office’s obligation to press charges when the circumstances called for it.
“According to our belief, in a true democracy the court and prosecution do not always see eye to eye. One cannot look at the acquittal as a professional failure,” Lador said.
“We would have done the public a disservice if we hadn’t press charged,” he said. He noted that despite its propensity to challenge prosecutors’ judiciousness in some cases, “the court didn’t criticize our conduct in this case or our decision to press these charges.”
Lador warned that prosecutors could not be expected to refrain from pressing charges out of fear that they would be forced to pay a public price if the court didn’t rule in their favor. “There can never be 100 percent certainty about a conviction in a democracy,” he said.
Responding to claims that his office was responsible for removing Olmert from his post, Lador emphasized that Olmert’s resignation was “a political process.” Such claims against the State Attorney’s Office were “a false portrayal of reality,” he said, noting that it was his office that “defended Olmert in the High Court of Justice when people demanded to end his term.”
Any strong case must be prosecuted, Lador said. “This is true of every citizen, and it is true of the prime minister. Everyone is equal before the law.”
Speaking to Channel 2, the prosecutor in the Olmert case, Uri Korev, said, “Olmert was convicted of a criminal offense. Contrary to what he is trying to assert, the conviction is not a technicality.”
“I don’t really see where we made a mistake. The indictment was a proper indictment that needed to be brought in front of the court, and that is what we did.”
From what he has heard of the verdict and the summary that he has read, he does still does not see any indication that prosecution did anything wrong.
“I would not take this conviction lightly. I would say that something very significant has happened.” Despite the extensive criticism of the prosecution, Korev emphasized that the court did agree that there was a fraud and that Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken was convicted.
“We had two defendants, and we saw a case of fraud, and we had reasonable evidence, and then some. We had no choice but to press charges against both defendants,” the prosecutor said.
As to whether or not the prosecution will appeal, Korev said that it is too early to tell. We have yet to read the 740 page verdict in depth, he explained. “We will read it and then make an informed decision.”
Korev emphasized that it should be remembered that a prime minister was in fact convicted of a crime today.