State appeals Olmert’s acquittals in two major corruption cases

Spokesman for former PM, who is mulling a return to politics, says the prosecution is pursuing a witch-hunt against him

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The State Attorney’s Office on Wednesday filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, demanding that the court overturn Ehud Olmert’s recent acquittal in two cases of corruption and mete out a more severe sentence in the one case in which the former prime minister was convicted.

Olmert was sentenced by the Jerusalem District Court in September to a suspended year-long jail term and a NIS 75,000 (some $19,000) fine, following his landmark conviction for a breach-of-trust charge in the so-called Investment Center scandal, but was cleared in two other allegations: the Rishon Tours affair, in which he was accused of holding a travel slush fund; and another count of accepting undeclared contributions from American businessman Morris Talansky.

There have been persistent rumors of a possible political comeback by Olmert, who stepped down as prime minister in 2008, following mounting public pressure. The appeal would not preclude a political comeback; however, as long as his name wasn’t cleared, it could legally prevent Olmert from serving as a minister – or, for that matter, as prime minister. Further complicating Olmert’s potential comeback from a legal position is the fact that he is still on trial for allegedly taking bribes in the Holyland real estate scandal, when he served as mayor of Jerusalem. Precedent indicates that a politician under indictment cannot serve as a minister.

A spokesman for Olmert said the appeal was part of a “witch-hunt.” Sources close to Olmert hinted that the decision was part of a concerted effort to deny Olmert a run at the premiership.

The appeal in the Rishon Tours case focuses on the interpretation of the evidence. The court, in clearing Olmert, cited the principle of reasonable doubt – the judges were not convinced that the evidence was sufficient to prove that the then-prime minister was aware of the double billing that was being committed by his staff.

In the appeal, the prosecution states: “The assumption that Olmert was unaware, for some four years, of repeated acts of fraud committed on his behalf, and involving sums of close to $100,000, for the sake of financing his travels – including many private trips made by him and his family – does not arouse reasonable doubt. The state will argue that the district court erred in its definition of what constitutes reasonable doubt.”

In the Talansky case, where Olmert stood accused of unlawfully accepting large sums of money, often in “cash-stuffed envelopes,” from American-Jewish businessman Morris Talansky, over a period of some 15 years, the prosecution will try to prove to the Supreme Court that the lower court had made a “critical error” in its definition of what constituted breach of trust on the part of a cabinet minister.

“The [district] court’s critical error,” the appeal said, “was in the conclusion that an elected official does not commit a breach of trust in accepting tens of thousands of dollars, mostly in cash, deposits all or some of the money in a secret fund… and does not inform a soul, while, furthermore, giving false and partial statements to the state comptroller.”

The prosecution further disputed the district court’s understanding of what constituted a legitimate political contribution.

“Sums received by an elected official in cash, which are managed on the sly, about which there is not documentation, and when it is impossible to follow their trail or the manner in which they are spent… cannot fall under the category of ‘political money,'” the appeal said.

Olmert’s media advisor, Amir Dan, claimed that the appeal was part of the public prosecution’s attempt to save face after losing a high-profile trial.

“The filing of the appeal is one more step in the no-holds-barred persecution campaign against Olmert by the State Attorney’s Office,” said Amir Dan, Olmert’s media advisor, further charging that the appeal constituted “an expression of a total lack of confidence on the part of the State Attorney’s Office in one of the most senior panels of judges in the Israeli district court system.

“The appeal has no justification,” he continued, “other than to sooth the wounded egos of the heads of the State Attorney’s Office… It is regrettable that Israel’s public prosecution is bent on a personal vendetta that only exacerbates the wrong that has already been done to Olmert – instead of focusing on rectifying its own scandalous conduct.”

The State Attorney’s Office, for its part, said that “If the appeal for the offenses in which Olmert was acquitted will be accepted, the State Attorney’s Office will request appropriate sentences for those offenses as well.”

“The charges of which the defendant was acquitted,” the prosecution said in the appeal, “bespeak various manifestations of improper comportment… that [Olmert] took advantage of his position, his authority, and his ability to illegally receive favors.”

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