Judges Warn Olmert Over New Line of Defense in Bribery Case

Supreme Court hears former prime minister's appeal of conviction in Holyland case for two bribery offenses; the former was sentenced to six years in prison.

Tali Meyer

On Thursday, the Supreme Court heard former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s appeal of his conviction in the Holyland case for two bribery offenses, for which he was sentenced to six years in prison. Three of the five justices hearing the case – Salim Joubran, Isaac Amit, Neal Hendel, Zvi Zylbertal and Uzi Vogelman – also heard the appeal of Olmert’s acquittal in the Talansky affair.

At the start of the hearing, the judges addressed the change in the line of Olmert’s defense. Olmert had initially confirmed that state’s witness Shmuel Dechner had given money to the former prime minister’s brother, Yossi; Olmert then retracted that statement, even though his attorney had admitted to the District Court that the money had been transferred.

The retraction was made during defense’s summation at the District Court, and is based on a survey of Dechner’s bank accounts and the fact that the checks that Dechner claims were transferred to Yossi Olmert were never found. In his testimony to the police, Yossi Olmert confirmed Dechner’s story that he had received 10 checks of 50,000 shekels each during of their meetings at the Apropo Cafe.

Justice Isaac Amit said, “You are making a dramatic change of direction here. It is accepted that there is no proof that he transferred money.” Amit then quoted the judge’s questions from the previous hearing as to whether it was agreed that the money had been transferred to Yossi Olmert – questions to which the answer had been “yes.”

Olmert’s defense attorney Navit Negev replied that she agreed that there were clear statements (that the parties had agreed that the money had been transferred), and said that there had been a change in direction on the issue before the defense’s summation. At this point, Joubran told Negev: “This is a bit of a dangerous change for you. This is a risk.”

This week, the court heard the rest of the appeals that the convicted defendants had submitted. They also discussed the questions arising from the Tel Aviv District Court’s verdict, such as the absence of any cross-examination of Dechner, whether the employment of a “macher,” or influential person, could be considered payment of a bribe, and whether the sentences that had been imposed were too heavy. The justices hinted that the appeal of former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski’s sentence might have a chance of acceptance.

The state prosecutor’s office asked the Supreme Court in November to allow the presentation of new evidence against Olmert in the affairs in which he was convicted of having received bribes in the Holyland case. The request has to do with email correspondence between Shula Zaken and her attorney Ofer Bartal in July 2012, on the evening after Dechner gave the main part of his testimony. In the emails, Zaken confirms that Dechner told her that Olmert had asked him to help his brother financially.

Olmert was convicted on the grounds that the half-million shekels that Yossi Olmert received from Dechner were tantamount to a bribe that he, Ehud Olmert, had received.