olmert - Tomer Appelbaum - September 6. 2010
Olmert at the Rishon Tours trial in Jerusalem. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived in a Jerusalem disctrict court on Monday for the resumption of his trial.

Contrary to expectations, Olmert chose not to relate to the police decision to recommend charging him with crimes in connection to the Holyland affair, and spoke mainly of the diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestininan Authority. "We are about to begin a new year, a year that points to changes that should fill all our hearts with hope," he said.

According to Olmert, "The most important this is the beginning of peace negotiations. I believe in negotiations, I believe in peace, I believe in our chances for peace." The former prime minister added that he is "waiting to hear good news that will lead to our aspirations materializing, aspirations so important to everyone in Israel."

Olmert continued, "I want to congratulate the new government for coming this far, and I'm waiting for good news for us, for our Palestinian neighbors, and perhaps for the whole world."

Rachel Raz-Risbi versus Olmert?

After a court recess, the deliberations over Rishon Tours will resume, and are expected to be meaningful with respect to Olmert. Today, his travel coordinator Rachel Raz-Risbi, the key witness in the case, will begin her testimony.

Raz-Risbi, who was Olmert's travel coordinator during the period that he was allegedly receiving excessive payments for this trips out of the country, was charged separately in the case.

Raz-Risbi's lawyer Asher Ohayon therefore requested that her testimony be postponed, which he claimed could reveal her own defense strategy. Olmert's lawyers supported the request, claiming that her testimony would be compromised due to her fears regarding her own trial, and should therefore be postponed.

The prosecution objected to the request of the lawyers. After a brief consultation, the judges decided to refuse the request. Raz-Risbi's testimony followed, and it opened with an announcement by the prosecution that "the state would not use the witness's statement in any other proceeding."

Great hope for Raz-Risbi's testimony

Both sides are pinning great hopes on Raz-Risbi's testimony. The prosecution hopes that she will soon shed light on Olmert's involvement in the Rishon Tours case, and the defense hopes that her testimony will refute the charges against Olmert.

This is Olmert's first public appearance since the police recommended charging him in the Holyland affair. After investigating him, the police handed his file to the Ministry of Justice with a recommendation that he be charged with accepting bribes, fraud, and breach of trust.

Raz-Risbi's indictment was delivered in July 2009 and was the first in the case. The indictment claims that Raz-Risbi aided Olmert and his office manager, Shula Zaken, to defraud the state and a number of international organizations by overcharging them for his trips out of the country, thereby paying for his personal expenses.

In her interrogation, Raz-Risbi described how the system worked. She explained how she would organize all of Olmert's trips that were paid for by the state or by the organization that invited him to speak. Ras-Risbi was also responsible for Olmert's connection to the American businessman Moshe Talansky, from whom he received hundreds of thousands of shekels over the years.