A senior state prosecution lawyer slammed the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to acquit former prime minister Ehud Olmert on two major corruption charges earlier this week while convicting him of a more minor offene. Speaking at a legal conference in Eilat on Thursday, Anat Savidor-Goldenzweig expressed bewilderment at how the court could have acquitted Olmert of the two gravest charges, despite determining that he had received large sums of money in both cases.
Savidor-Goldenzweig, who serves as deputy state prosecutor of Israel’s central district said, “I find it hard to understand how come $450,000 are unaccounted for, that the [State] comptroller knows nothing about. How did that end with acquittal? It’s unclear. I don’t understand it.” She was referring to large sums of cash paid to Olmert by a former supporter, American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky.
“With all due respect, I come from the home of a public figure, my father was Knesset Speaker,” she added. “He knew about every penny he received, he knew very well on which account he traveled abroad and from which account he made any expenses,” said Savidor-Goldenzweig, daughter of former politician Menachem Savidor. This was a reference to “double billing” for Olmert’s trips abroad by his office — a charge for which his secretary Shula Zaken was convicted but Olmert was not.
“What is the meaning of this nonsense: People travel abroad and don’t know what’s the state of their accounts?” challenged Savidor-Goldenzweig.
Savidor-Goldenzweig also expressed concern that the judges’ ruling would have a chilling influence on state lawyers, deterring them from charging politicians in the future.
An Olmert spokesperson responded to the critique, saying, “It is a shame that officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office, whose daily job it is to criticize others, cannot accept criticism themselves…. The State Prosecutor’s Office respects the courts only when they rule in their favor.”
The Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert of two major charges Tuesday morning, and convicted him of a lesser charge — breach of trust in the so-called Investments Center case, when he was industry minister.
The former prime minister was cleared of charges of double billing on trips abroad in what was known as the Rishon Tours case, and of charges of illegally taking large sums of money from American businessman Morris Talansky.
Sentencing in the Investments Center case was set for September; prosecutors will reportedly not seek a jail term in part because there are no precedents for prison terms to be handed down for similar offenses.
State Attorney Moshe Lador on Tuesday night described the breach of trust conviction as a “grave” one, indicative of “patently unacceptable” conduct of the former prime minister during his term in office. If Olmert is not jailed for it, this would clear one more obstacle for the former prime minister from his route to a possible political comeback. A politician jailed for three months or more for a conviction that involves what the judges rule an instance of “moral turpitude” is barred from political office for seven years.
Olmert is still on trial over alleged bribery in the Holyland real estate affair. State prosecutors are said to be reexamining aspects of their handling of that case, which is set to run for several more months, in the wake of Tuesday’s verdict.