State Appeals Olmert's Graft Acquittals, Sentence in Conviction

Move to challenge acquittal in Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs comes despite hope of former premier's aides that the State Prosecutor's Office would only appeal the Talanksy case.

The state on Wednesday appealed former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's acquittal in two corruption cases, as well as the sentence in the one case in which he was found guilty.

In July, the Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert in one case involving the receipt of cash-filled envelopes from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky and another that involved double-billing various nonprofits for overseas flights.

But it convicted him of breach of trust for improperly intervening in decisions by the Industry Ministry's Investments Center on companies represented by his friend, attorney Uri Messer. For that, it gave him a one-year suspended sentence and a NIS 75,300 fine.

The appeal of Olmert's acquittal in the Talansky case challenged the district court's lenient view of his conduct in receiving money from Talansky and keeping it in a safe managed by Messer. The prosecution argued that the court made a "fundamental error" by finding an elected official not guilty of fraud and breach of trust "despite the fact that he had been handed tens of thousands of dollars, mostly in cash; failed to report their receipt; and kept the money in a secret safe, together with [additional] hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Olmert also gave false, incomplete statements to the state comptroller, the appeal argued, deliberately omitting the fact that he had the money in his possession. At the same time, he used his position to advance the business interests of the man who gave him the money.

Regarding the double-billing case, the prosecution asked the Supreme Court to reject the lower court's conclusion that Olmert may have been unaware of the fraudulent acts carried out in his name, especially given that the district court convicted his office manager, Shula Zaken, in this case. The court's assumption that Olmert was unaware of repeated acts of fraud carried out in his name over a period of four years - especially when these acts brought in nearly $100,000 that were then used to pay for his travels, including many private trips abroad by him and his family - is implausible, the appeal said.

The possibility that Olmert used the alleged fraud to fund his travels unwittingly was "unreasonable," it continued, as was the likelihood of him being unaware of the fact that he didn't pay for any of his trips abroad during the period in question.

The 103-page appeal accused Olmert of "active fraud" and "clearly corrupt conduct" during his years as mayor of Jerusalem and industry and trade minister.

The prosecution also appealed the leniency of Olmert's sentence in the Investments Center case, asking the Supreme Court to impose a stiffer punishment.

The appeal said the penalty was completely inappropriate in view of the gravity of Olmert's acts, the sentences imposed in similar cases, and the need to deter public officials from corruption.

The state also appealed both the verdict and the sentence handed down to Zaken. Specifically, it asked the Supreme Court to change her conviction in the double-billing case from "fraud" to "aggravated fraud," which would automatically imply a stiffer sentence.

A source close to Olmert termed the appeal "another move in the [prosecution's] relentless persecution of Olmert."

Olmert's spokesman, Amir Dan, echoed this charge. "By waiting until the last moment before submitting the appeal, the State Prosecutor's Office intends to influence Olmert's decision on whether or not to return to the political arena, since Olmert recently stated that he would decide after the U.S. elections," Dan said.