Olmert lawyers: Corruption charges lack evidence
Former PM accused of bribe-taking, falsifying documents, fraud; trial could last four years.
For the first time in the history of the State of Israel, a person who served as prime minister will sit on the defendant's bench.
The State Prosecution filed charges Sunday against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, attributing to him a litany of violations that include accepting bribes, fraud, breach of trust, falsifying documents and income tax evasion.
Olmert's attorneys said late Sunday following news of his indictment that the prosecution had no evidence of the gravest charges against him, particularly bribe-taking, money laundering or theft.
"The indictment proves to us just how right we were to refuse to attend a hearing with the attorney general and the state prosecution," wrote his attorneys in response to the indictment.
The corruption trial is expected to last up to four years, without taking into account possible appeals at the Supreme Court. A panel of justices at the Jerusalem District Court will likely deliberate over Olmert's case twice a week.
The indictment focuses on three investigations against Olmert for which he was questioned by police: the Talansky Affair, Rishon Tours, and the Investment Center. The charges also refer to false declarations made to the State Comptroller regarding funds he received from a U.S. citizen and an assessment of the value of his pen collection.
Olmert's former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, was also indicted with similar charges. She is also accused of wire tapping Olmert's conversations with politicians and ministers, without his knowledge.
According to the indictment filed by State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, Jerusalem District Prosecutor Eli Abarbanel, and attorney Uri Corb, Olmert and Zaken abused his political position "in systematic and drawn out activities for financial benefits ... in different ways and from different sources ... all in manners that contravened the law, the norms and the rules that obligate a minister and a public servant."
The first charge relates to the Rishon Tours case. Olmert is accused of claiming double and triple reimbursement from public organizations and from the state during the years 2002-2006 for trips he took on their behalf.
In this way he is believed to have pocketed $92,164. The cash, along with the frequent flyer mileage he accumulated were used for his private trips abroad, as well as for his family and the upgrading of their flights.
In order to be able to make the false claims, Olmert and Zaken got Rishon Tours to issue fictitious receipts to the organizations that were covering the expenses of the flights.
The false information included falsifying travel routes, and inflated costs for flights. The reimbursement was sought from a number of organizations at the same time.
The indictment lists 17 flights in which the costs were inflated. Among the organizations that paid for these flights are Akim, Yad Vashem and State of Israel Bonds, among others. The extra money was kept in a checking account under Olmert's name.
The indictment shows that Olmert owed money to Rishon Tours and in May 2007 transferred NIS 12,460 to cover a quarter of the debt. The rest Rishon Tours' owner Emanuel Baumelshpiner had covered from the accounts of other clients at the office, without their knowledge or agreement.
According to the charges, in order to hide the fact that he purchased tickets from Rishon Tours which had not won a tender making it an authorized ticket sales officer for the Ministry of Industry and Trade, which Olmert headed at the time, he made use of other offices that had won tenders for the transfer of the funds. In his statements to the State Comptroller, Olmert is accused of hiding the fact that he had an account with the travel office or the fact that he owed them money.
The other charges have to do with the Talansky Affair and the Investment Center. According to the indictment Olmert received more than $600,000 between the years 1997-2005 from the American fund raiser Morris Talansky. The funds were transferred in a number of ways: directly into a bank account, in envelopes of cash, or through Olmert's former bureau chief, Shula Zaken.
Some of the money was placed in a secret account held by Olmert's confidant and former partner, attorney Uri Messer, and according to the indictment more funds were delivered to this account from sources that are not known to the prosecution.
As reported by Haaretz, $300,000 of the money Talansky gave Olmert was used to cover debts of a non-profit organization that backed Olmert when he ran for mayor of Jerusalem in 1998.
Regarding the Investment Center charges, Olmert is accused of "a conflict of interest" with the clients of Messer in a business issue that affected him and his function as Minister of Industry. The indictment refers to "serious personal obligation toward Messer, at which time he should have taken himself out of the entire dealing with Messer and his clients."
Olmert's communications adviser, Amir Dan, said Sunday in response to the indictment that "after they removed a prime minister from government it was clear that the attorney general and the State Prosecution had no other option than to file an indictment against Olmert."
"The court of law, on the other hand, is free of such ulterior motives, and therefore Olmert is convinced that at the court he will be able, once and for all, to prove his innocence," he added. "It is important to remember that the Cremieux and Bank Leumi affairs [other police investigation against Olmert] also began with huge headlines and stood for years, until they ended with nothing. The end of these cases will be the same."