Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's testimony in his corruption trial ended yesterday evening in the Jerusalem District Court. Toward the end of the session, Olmert was asked by Judge Yaakov Tzaban why his close associates - his assistant, Oved Yehezkel, and his friend, attorney Ori Messer - had failed to tell him they worked together on securing approval for the Manara Cliff project, in which Messer had represented the developers.
"Surely two people close to you would have told you something like that?" asked Tzaban.
"I have said so on numerous occasions, both with regard to Messer and to Oved. I said I took Oved under my wing. He did good things and I am grateful to him," Olmert responded.
"In retrospect, as happens, I learned a few things that caused me sadness, along with distress and disappointment - but not because of a lack of integrity," the former prime minister continued. "In Oved's case, it stemmed from an unlimited drive to prove his capabilities and skills, and an ability to implement things. Because he always lived with the feeling that I appreciated him, but not enough. So there were mistakes that he made - not with bad intent ... I didn't know about it. I simply didn't know."
Olmert's convoluted response was an example of the way in which he dealt with embarrassing questions from the judges and prosecution throughout the proceedings. On the one hand, he tended to allude to mistakes, mishaps or even corruption on the part of his associates or subordinates - while on the other, he praised them for their loyalty and hard work.
Olmert spoke in a similar vein concerning Messer, about whom he raised questions regarding funds that he held; about Rachel Raz-Risby, who made mistakes due to her heavy workload; as well as about Shula Zaken and officials at the Industry and Trade Ministry.
Olmert can take some comfort in the fact that two of the charges against him became weakened during his testimony: The first concerns the pens, whose true value he was accused of failing to declare; the second relates to his alleged fraudulent conduct toward the state comptroller with regard to his relationship with U.S. businessman Joe Almaliach, in which context the judges noted that the prosecution's interpretation of Olmert's response to the comptroller was not the only possible interpretation.
Olmert's defense team yesterday seemed to try to convey a sense of satisfaction with the way in which the former prime minister handled the accusations against him during his cross-examination.
"I am leaving with the sense that he gave a worthy explanation for all the things with which he is being charged," said Olmert's defense attorney, Eli Zohar. "It appears that he may have been indicted somewhat hastily."
Upon completing his testimony, Olmert thanked the judges, saying: "Naturally, I kept things inside for years, under unprecedented circumstances, and I had a deep need to give expression to these things. I know there were instances that required much restraint. I know that things were said in the heat of the moment ... I want to say thank you and to apologize if there were things that could have been avoided."
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