For the first time in the country's history, a former prime minister has been convicted of the criminal offense of breach of trust. The verdict handed down by the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday is a complex and multi-faceted document that reflects fearless work on the court's part, unaffected by the media's frenzy surrounding the trial. Ehud Olmert was convicted of conduct involving a serious conflict of interest, which benefited the clients of his friend and former partner, Attorney Uri Messer.
In the same breath, however, the court found the former prime minister not guilty with respect to the prosecutions' allegations in two, more serious cases, involving charges that he appropriated public funds and paid for personal trips abroad with funds provided by Jewish organizations. Although Olmert's trial did not end successfully, from the standpoint of the prosecution, the court did not criticize the prosecutors' handling of the case. On the contrary. Even with respect to the charges on which Olmert was acquitted due to lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the court was critical of his conduct from an ethical and disciplinary standpoint.
The judges found that the former prime minister had received "pocket money" from American businessman and fundraiser Morris Talansky. Olmert wrote letters of support to international businessmen on behalf of Talansky's business affairs, and the court rejected the argument that this was merely a trivial matter.
With regard to the charge on which Olmert was convicted, involving Messer's clients' contacts with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor's Investment Center when Olmert was the minister, the court found that the former prime minister's acts took on a more serious cast due to the frequency of his intervention in decision-making, his senior position and the concealment of his ties with Messer.
Furthermore, a conviction for breach of trust is not the trivial matter that Olmert and his lawyers made it out to be on Tuesday, as it involves the violation of a law designed to maintain the public's trust in government and the integrity of public service, which is even more important when it comes to cabinet ministers and prime ministers.
Nonetheless, the prosecution must take stock of why the trial against Olmert ended as it did. Prosecutors should not be expected to achieve a 100 percent conviction rate, but there is truth to the argument that an indictment against a sitting prime minister that results in such a limited conviction cannot be spared some stocktaking. That is a far cry, however, from the need to level harsh criticism of the prosecutor's office or a call for the resignation of the heads of the office.
The success Olmert's lawyers had in raising reasonable doubt over the two main sets of allegations in the case does not mean that he should not have been indicted.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now