Following his acquittal on Tuesday morning of the charges against him in two major corruption cases, and conviction of breach of trust in a third, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters that he had not engaged in any corruption, and reiterated that "there were no envelopes of cash."
The Jerusalem District court on Tuesday acquitted Olmert in the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs, and found him guilty in the Investment Centers affair. The Talanksy case led to Olmert's resignation as prime minister in 2008.
“Four years ago, all of Israel’s media outlets were filled with reports of envelopes of cash. There were no envelopes of cash. None. In the court house, it was determined once and for all, that there are no envelopes of cash," Olmert told reporters.
Olmert said that the rulings on the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs were "the heart of the indictments," and that, "It was said that the ground would shake. I did not defraud any organization." Olmert was accused of defrauding Yad Vashem, amongst other organizations.
He went on to say that "the Rishon Tours affair is erased. Again, there was no corruption, no money received, no use of money, no envelopes of cash. Nothing they tried to accuse me of in the affair was true."
Regarding the court decision over the Investment Center affair, in which Olmert was found guilty of breach of trust, the former PM said, "I breached trust. I respect the court’s decision. I will learn the necessary lessons from this decision. In the courthouse, it was decided that there was a failure to follow proper procedure. Not corruption. I did not benefit from anything. This is a note that I respect and will take to heart.”
To end, Olmert quoted former PM Menachem Begin, saying,"There are judges in Jerusalem"
Jerusalem District Court president, Moussia Arad, headed the panel of judges that found Olmert not guilty of the charges in the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs, and convicted him only on one count – breach of trust, in the Investment Center affair. Accusations over the Talansky affair led to Olmert's forced resignation as prime minister.
Shula Zaken, Olmert's longtime office manager and co-defendant, was convicted in the Rishon Tours affair, and acquitted on other charges, including listening in on Olmert's conversations without permission.
After the trial, Zaken told reporters, "I felt the whole way that the judges were listening, asking the right questions. I decided not to be a witness at the trial, because I felt I was being used as a tool by someone who wanted to take down a Prime Minister."
Omert corruption trial
The acquittal is a major blow to the state prosecutions' office.
In the Rishon Tours affair, Olmert was acquitted due to reasonable doubt. "The defendant's claim that he wasn't aware of it, has its problems," wrote Arad, "but there wasn't enough evidence presented to prove that his version of events isn't reasonable… there were no clear directives or procedures." The judges accepted Olmert's explanation that there was disorder in the Prime Minister's Office, rather than an organized scheme to produce profits.
"We arrived at the conclusion that the evidence does not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendants chose a course of action that would gain the defendant profits," Arad said, "no document was found in which the defendant directed Risby-Raz to collect the extra money. Indeed, there are documents that could point to the defendant's awareness of surpluses."
The judges also accepted the argument that Olmert was very busy and could have believed that the flights were funded by frequent flyer miles. "The [defendant's] public behavior does not coincide with a system of fraud intended to create cash surpluses… such an intention was not proved," wrote the court, which also determined that "there was no joint fraud system by the defendant and Rishon Tours. There were no special relations with the Rishon Tours owners, and no proof of a system to produce profits."
Earlier, in the introduction to the verdict, president Arad said that the "trial was long and complex. One hundred and fifty-seven hearings, 19,000 pages of protocol, 966 exhibits. The sides' summaries include 4,000 pages. Two events caused delays – the attorney's strike and the police investigation of a further affair (Holyland)." Judge Arad praised both sides' handling of the case.
Eli Zohar, Olmert’s lead attorney, left the courtroom and spoke to the press immediately following the ruling. “The fact is that the Prime Minister stepped down from his post following the preliminary testimony from Morris Talansky in which he was accused of taking bribes, and that ordeal ended today, with a resounding acquittal,” said Zohar.
Zohar continued, “I appreciate the court’s honorable ability to be unaffected by pressure from society and the media, and to make a ruling despite them.”
“Also, I cannot let go the comments made by Condoleezza Rice at the start of the Talansky affair, and the difficulties that resulted in Israel from her remarks,” said Zohar.
Navot Tel-Zur, another of Olmert’s attorneys, commented on the lone conviction handed down at the hearing. “I’ve never heard of a conviction of breach of trust for a public official. Everyone knows that the investigation wasn’t opened to investigate this charge,” said Tel-Zur.
When Olmert first took the witness stand, in May 2011, Olmert told the court, "I am fighting for my life here," and he has certainly waged a stubborn legal battle.
In the Rishon Tours affair Olmert allegedly pocketed $92,164 by claiming double and triple reimbursement from public organizations and from the state for trips between 2002-2006.
In the Talansky affair, which led to Olmert's resignation as prime minister in 2008, Olmert is charged with illegally receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally.
The Investment Center affairs concerns allegations that Olmert, during his term as industry, trade and labor minister, granted personal favors to Uri Messer, his old law partner.
On Tuesday morning, Kadima party leader and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz released a message congratulating Olmert on the acquittal.
Olmert is also one of sixteen suspects charged with wrongdoing in the Holyland corruption trial, which involves developers who allegedly paid bribes to senior Jerusalem municipal officials in exchange for expedited approval of expanded construction plans for the Holyland project.
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