The State Attorney’s Office informed lawyers for former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday that it will appeal his acquittal in at least one, and possibly both, of the two substantive corruption cases in which he was acquitted by the Jerusalem District Court in July.
Olmert’s lawyer Eli Zohar was told that the state had not yet decided on the scale of the appeal — whether it would focus solely on the so-called Talansky affair, or would also extend to the Rishon Tours affair, Channel 2 news reported on Tuesday night. But the State Attorney’s Office wanted to give Olmert’s lawyers the earliest possible warning that it will definitely appeal, the report said, so that it would not later be accused of timing an appeal to torpedo any plans Olmert might have to run in the January 22, 2013, general elections.
Olmert was sentenced by the court in September to a suspended year-long jail term and a NIS 75,000 fine (some $19,000), following his landmark conviction for a relatively minor breach-of-trust charge, but was cleared in the two major cases against him.
The sentence left Olmert free to consider a return to politics, and he had been reported in recent days to be contemplating a comeback. Channel 2 said that news of the appeal, combined with pressure from his family and some of his lawyers not to attempt a return this time, made it “increasingly likely” that Olmert, who is also still on trial in the Holyland real-estate scandal, will sit out the 2013 elections.
The former prime minister is reportedly set to meet his Kadima party leadership successor, Tzipi Livni, on Wednesday, to discuss both of their political features. Livni was ousted by Kadima as its leader last spring, and resigned from the Knesset, but has also reportedly been considering a comeback.
The Talansky affair involved accusations that Olmert had illegally accepted money from American businessman Morris Talansky. In the Rishon Tours affair, he was cleared of maintaining an illegal travel slush fund.
The state indicated all along that it was likely to appeal the acquittals. “This affair is not over, absolutely not,” the Deputy State Attorney Eli Abarbanel said immediately after sentence had been passed. He said a special team from the prosecution had been studying the July verdicts ever since they were handed down. The state still formally has about three weeks left to consider an appeal.
State prosecutors reportedly believe that the court drew demonstrably erroneous conclusions from undisputed facts in the Talansky affair, meaning that an appeal would have a realistic prospect of success.
Olmert’s defense lawyers, in their public comments after sentencing, had urged the prosecution to put an end to the legal battles that ended Olmert’s prime ministership three years ago. One of Olmert’s attorney’s, Navot Tel-Zur, said an appeal might look like “a witch-hunt.”
Olmert was sentenced last month for his breach-of-trust conviction, which involved appointments made when he was minister of trade, industry and labor, and conflicts of interest due to connections to his friend and one-time business associate, Uri Messer, in what was known as the Investment Center scandal.
An anti-corruption watchdog, the Movement for Quality Government, urged the State Attorney’s Office to appeal Olmert’s sentence, saying that the court had let Olmert off easy and that the punishment would not deter elected officials from violating the trust of their constituents.