The State Attorney’s Office is certain to appeal the Jerusalem District Court’s acquittal of Ehud Olmert in one of the two substantive cases for which the former prime minister was acquitted in July, the so-called Talansky affair, Hebrew media reports claimed on Monday evening. State prosecutors are also seriously considering appealing Olmert’s acquittal in the second serious case, the Rishon Tours affair, the reports said.
Earlier Monday, Olmert was sentenced by the court 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. The prosecution had sought a stiffer sentence of six months’ community service. The sentence leaves Olmert free to return to politics, but commentators believe he could not serve as a minister because he is still on trial in another case, the Holyland real estate scandal.
The prosecution will not challenge the court’s sentencing in the breach-of-trust conviction, but is “100 percent certain” to appeal the Talansky acquittal, Channel 2 News reported, and may well seek to overturn the Rishon Tours acquittal. Other Hebrew media reports echoed the report.
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.
“This affair is not over, absolutely not,” the Deputy State Attorney Eli Abarbanel said immediately after sentence had been passed on Monday. He said a special team from the prosecution had been studying the July verdicts ever since they were handed down, and would come to a decision in the coming weeks on whether to 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, the reports claimed.
Olmert’s defense lawyers, in their public comments after Monday’s sentencing, urged the prosecution to now 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 Monday 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.
Former Supreme Court vice president Eliahu Mazza told Channel 2 on Monday evening that Olmert’s sentencing featured “an incomprehensible disparity between the findings and the punishment.”
“The breach of trust for which [Olmert] was convicted… constituted a grave issue,” he said. Yet the former prime minister’s punishment “lacked significance.” He said “public officials should be sentenced more severely” and that the sentence does not inspire public confidence in the court.
“In my opinion, if one is convicted, an appropriate punishment should be imposed on the guilty,” Mazza said.
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.
“This was a grave crime, not a procedural error,” presiding Jerusalem District Court judge Musya Arad said of the breach-of-trust conviction as she read from the 27-page verdict, “a crime tainted by official corruption.”
She added that the gravity of the crime ordinarily justified a jail term. But this was “a special case,” she said, noting that the relative lightness of the sentence was influenced by the fact that Olmert had been forced to give up his prime ministerial post to fight other accusations — first in the Talansky affair, and later the Rishon Tours case — of which he was eventually cleared.
Olmert still faces charges in a separate case of taking bribes in the Holyland real estate scandal when he served as mayor of Jerusalem.
“I leave the court with my head held high,” Olmert said in a brief statement after the sentence on Monday. “I will respect the judgment and learn the lessons.”