State Prosecutors Mull Closing Holyland Corruption Case Against Olmert

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's lawyers met recently with prosecutors to argue that the evidence is weak following the death of a key state witness.

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Prosecutors are considering a request by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to close the Holyland corruption case against him following the death of key state witness Shmuel Dachner, outgoing Deputy State Prosecutor for Criminal Affairs Yehoshua Lembergersaid Thursday.

At a panel discussion about politicians facing legal investigation, held as part of this week's Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat, Lamberger was asked whether the Holyland case was still viable. He replied, "We must examine at every step of the legal process whether there is a reasonable chance of securing a conviction. Today there rests before us a request by some of the defense lawyers to close the case against their clients. We are looking into this. The decision will be easy to make. If there is a good chance of convicting the defendants despite the death of the key witness, we will continue with the case. If we conclude the chance is slim, we will desist. This is what we are determining."

Olmert's attorneys Eli Zohar and Roy Blecher met recently with prosecutors to argue that the remaining evidence is weak and pointed to what they said were contradictions in Dachner's testimony.

Prosecutors are also considering a request by Danny Dankner, the former chairman of Salt of the Earth, Israel's major salt producer, that the charges against him be re-evaluated. Dankner's attorney Navot Tel-Zur has yet to meet with prosecutors.

The prosecution is not expected to close the case against Olmert at least until it has finished making its arguments in court, allowing it to weigh all the available evidence. Among the prosecution witnesses slated to testify soon is Ehud Olmert’s brother, Yossi Olmert, who according to the prosecution received NIS 500,000 from Dachner at Ehud Olmert’s request. Yossi Olmert will testify by video from the United States between May 6 and May 8, most significantly regarding Ehud Olmert's knowledge of the money transfer.

Under interrogation, Yossi Olmert previously confirmed receiving the money from Dachner, but denied the prosecution’s claim that the transfer was at his brother’s request. Olmert claims he does not know who asked Dachner to send him the money, but suggested it may have been former civil service commissioner Avraham Natan. Natan denied the allegation. Ehud Olmert’s knowledge of the transfer is crucial to convicting him for accepting bribes.

The death of the state’s witness came at a dramatic moment, shortly after Dachner’s cross-examination by Olmert’s lawyers began. Blecher had questioned Dachner in three court sessions but had only started to cover background issues. He had not yet reached the core charges against Olmert, the taking of bribes in the form of money given by Dachner to Olmert’s brother Yossi; the city of Jerusalem’s chief engineer, Uri Shitrit, and Olmert’s former bureau chief, Shula Zaken.

Olmert is not accused of pocketing bribes himself. The fact that his lawyers did not have time to confront Dachner with the key accusations against Olmert may empower them question the weight that should be given to Dachner’s claims and the admissibility of his testimony.

After Dachner’s death, it was revealed that during his cross-examination, Olmert’s lawyers were going to present the court with a document proving that on the date that Dachner was allegedly asked to give the money to Yossi Olmert, the prime minister was on a trip to the United States (a trip that came up in another court case, dubbed Rishon Tours, in which he was accused of double billing).

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.Credit: AP
The recent death of state witness Shmuel Dechner may contribute to ending the trial.Credit: Nir Kafri

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