Former PM Olmert to serve 8 more months in jail
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Former PM Olmert to serve 8 more months in jail

‘It’s all over,’ says Supreme Court justice after rejecting Olmert’s appeal against conviction and sentence in Talansky affair

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 10, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 10, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)

Disgraced former prime minister Ehud Olmert will serve an additional eight months in prison following the Supreme Court’s unanimous rejection Wednesday of an appeal against his conviction and sentencing in the so-called Talansky affair.

The ruling brings to an end years of legal wrangling over several corruption cases in which Olmert was implicated.

The eight months will come on top of a 19-month sentence that Olmert began serving at Ma’asiyahu Prison in February for his part in the Holyland affair — a real estate corruption case involving construction of a huge residential complex in Jerusalem — and for obstruction of justice.

Olmert was found guilty last year of accepting envelopes full of cash from American businessman and fundraiser Morris Talansky in exchange for political favors during his decade-long term as mayor of Jerusalem. He was sentenced to eight months but the sentence has been pending because of his appeal.

The court also unanimously rejected the state’s request to increase Olmert’s sentence for the so-called Investment Center affair, in which Olmert was accused of a conflict of interest with clients of his former law partner, Uri Messer, over a business issue that affected him in his role at the time as industry, trade and labor minister. For this, Olmert was convicted of fraud and breach of trust and given a suspended sentence.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert seen at the Jerusalem District Court for a sentencing hearing, a month after the court found Olmert guilty of fraud and breach of trust in the Talansky affair. May 05, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert seen at the Jerusalem District Court for a sentencing hearing, a month after the court found Olmert guilty of fraud and breach of trust in the Talansky affair. May 05, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

And by a majority of three judges to two, the court ruled against a state request to overturn a 2012 acquittal and convict Olmert in a third case, known as the Rishon Tours affair.

At the end of the verdict, Judge Salim Joubran wrote: “And so the curtain falls on the last campaign of the cases known as Rishon Tours, the Talansky case, and the Investment Center affair. The person who was a senior government minister, a deputy prime minister, and subsequently also prime minister, will add and perform an additional jail sentence behind lock and key. It’s all over.”

In rejecting Olmert’s appeal against conviction for the Talansky case, the court said Talansky did transfer various sums to Olmert, some of it in cash in envelopes, although it was not possible to know whether Olmert had used the money for private or political purposes.

Olmert was originally cleared in the Talansky affair, but was subsequently incriminated by tape recordings released by his former bureau chief Shula Zaken as part of a plea bargain she reached with the prosecution. In light of the recordings, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial of the case and in March 2015, Olmert was convicted by a district court in a decision that he appealed.

In his ruling, Judge Yitzhak Amit wrote that the facts spoke for themselves — a public figure received envelopes of cash, secretly transferred them to a secret fund and $150,000 disappeared from the fund. “All the arguments and squirming over whether the money was political or private pale against this,” he said.

Former aide to Ehud Olmert, Shula Zaken, outside a Tel Aviv court on Thursday, May 15. Zaken testified against Olmert and was given 11 months in prison for her role in the Holyland affair (photo credit: Motti Kimchi/Pool/Flash90)
Former aide to Ehud Olmert, Shula Zaken, outside a Tel Aviv court on Thursday, May 15. Zaken testified against Olmert and was given 11 months in prison for her role in the Holyland affair (photo credit: Motti Kimchi/Pool/Flash90)

Rishon Tours was a travel agency implicated in a double-billing affair during the time that Olmert served as Jerusalem mayor and as industry minister. Trips overseas, which were paid for by the state, were also billed to organizations that had invited Olmert to be their guest. The total spent on those trips came to more than $90,000.

Jubran, in rejecting the request for a conviction along with Neal Hendel and Zvi Zilbertal, said that “on the basis of existing testimony, Olmert’s awareness of the double billing from overseas organizations to finance his trips cannot be established beyond reasonable doubt.”

He said Olmert’s claim that he did not go into every detail of his department’s operation and rather relied on his departmental staff was acceptable.

Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, December 16, 2014. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)
Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, December 16, 2014. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

In a minority opinion, Judges Uzi Fogelman and Yitzhak Amit argued for convicting Olmert of fraudulently obtaining double financing for four of the trips he took abroad, and of falsely representing the facts to the state comptroller, and for fraud and breach of trust.

Fogelman focused on four out of 17 trips because they were linked to documents bearing Olmert’s handwriting. On two of them, Olmert told his bureau’s overseas coordinator, Rachel Rizby Raz, to charge the organizations in whose name he was flying overseas.

Fogelman argued that those documents proved Olmert was aware of the double billing. He said he found it difficult to accept the argument that such a talented man would not have known about criminal wrongdoing being done in his name over so many years.

In his minority opinion, he wrote that despite all the pieces of testimony, “the story, in the end, is simple. This is a story about a minister who received extra cash from organizations he asked to serve after providing them with false representation.”

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