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A court acquitted the former director of cardiac surgery at Sheba Hospital, Tel Hashomer, of a series of charges related to accepting bribes and embezzlement.

The 2006 indictment against Prof. Aram Smolinsky, 62, said the physician conditioned his services on payments of between NIS 8,000 and 20,000 to either the cardiac surgery department or his personal account.

Smolinsky, who headed the department between 1994 and 2004, is considered one of Israel's leading heart surgeons. But during his time as department head a number of complaints reached the Health Ministry alleging that he had left patients in critical condition on the operating table, to be performed on by young interns, and that he had requested bribes of between $3,000 and $5,000 from the families of 11 patients in order to operate on them.

Shortly after the start of the trial, prosecutors withdrew three of the charges, and yesterday Tel Aviv District Court acquitted Smolinsky of the other eight counts against him.

Judge Dorit Reich-Shapira wrote in her decision: "At the end of the day, after cautiously examining all of the evidence, particularly the witnesses' testimony, I found evidentiary flaws that raise serious doubts about the suspect's guilt.

"I don't have convincing evidence for the conclusion that in the cases in question, the accused conditioned performing procedures on the reception of money to be paid to him personally or to the hospital," she wrote.

The judge also expressed criticism of two secretaries in the cardiac surgery department who testified for the prosecution, stating that their testimonies were influenced by their dismissal by Smolinsky, and that they were motivated by a desire for "revenge."

"I was not convinced by her statement that she didn't wish anything bad to come to the accused," Reich-Shapira wrote about one of the witnesses. "Her belief that the defendant could have helped her by reversing her dismissal, but did not do so, motivated her to seek revenge." The judge also criticized the actions of the defendant, whom she said responded vaguely to questioning, claiming not to remember the details of how events unfolded.

"The defendant's refusal to give full responses to investigators is peculiar and raises serious doubts," she wrote. "Still, under the circumstances of this case, I wasn't convinced that the suspect's insufficient answers were enough to fill the void in the prosecution's evidence," she wrote.

The audience in the courtroom greeted the ruling with applause. Smolinsky responded to the decision by saying: "My work involves difficult issues. Usually they are matters of life and death - so one needs to put things into proportion.

"This is my work, and in many cases it allows me to save lives. The court made its ruling - I will continue to offer treatment to people in need of it," he said.

After the ruling, Smolinsky, who now works at the private Assuta hospital, approached prosecutor Toni Goldenberg and said to her with a smile, "I wish you success in your other cases."