Hearings in Olmert Corruption Trial Come to an End in 'Purim Atmosphere'

Jerusalem District Court will now have to decide on the outcome of Israel's biggest corruption trial ever.

Hearings in former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's corruption trial came to an end on Thursday, with the prosecution blaming the defense for telling "fairy tales" in the spirit of the Purim season.

The Jerusalem District Court will now have to decide on the outcome of Israel's biggest corruption trial ever.

Ehud Olmert - Michal Fattal - 18032012
Michal Fattal

The final hearing saw hostility between the prosecution and the defense as the two sides repeated their positions of the past two and a half years.

"What we've heard here is a world turned upside down, in sync with the Purim atmosphere," prosecutor Uri Corb said, referring to the defense's final statements. "It's a world where law enforcement agents are depicted as people searching for convenient targets."

Defense attorney Eli Zohar struck back: "The prosecutor used this day ... to toss every piece of dirt he could find at the defense. This is improper behavior on behalf of the state. You can feel their emotions running high."

Over the two and a half years, around 25 people have assembled in the hall of the court's president every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. The group included three judges, half a dozen attorneys and their students, three or four media consultants, four or five journalists, a court recorder, two security guards, judicial assistants, and one ex-prime minister and his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken.

These 25 people are knowledgable about the proceedings, but anyone who really wants to understand the trial must delve into 18,000 pages of minutes, comprising the testimonies of 122 witnesses.

The trial was basically trench warfare; there weren't too many dramatic turns. The focus, especially in the last part of the proceedings, wasn't on the facts, but on their interpretation. The disagreements were about the degree Olmert and Zaken were aware of the events on the ground.

Both sides, for example, agree that Olmert went on overfunded trips abroad - what is known as the Rishon Tours or double-billing affair. The prosecution claimed that Olmert and Zaken ordered their staff to behave in a criminal manner, while the defense tried to prove that it was no more than a bureaucratic mix-up.

The prosecution says that the "Rachael Binders", named after Olmert's travel planner Rachael Risby-Raz, contain many documents supporting improper double-billing.

The defense tried to prove that no improper system had been put in place in Olmert's office; rather, chaos reigned. The defense pointed out that some trips suffered from a lack of funds, proving that there wasn't a system.

A member of the prosecution insisted that "when you have surpluses, you can certainly create cases of underfunding while knowing about it."

During the case, the defense also claimed that Olmert didn't know the minute details. "It's a delusion of the prosecution," Olmert said on the witness stand. "I had no idea such an account existed. Nobody told me it existed, and I didn't know about these funds accumulating."

The problem for Olmert here is that documents exist, often in his own handwriting, discussing details of his trips. Corb summed up the prosecution's point of view: "Zaken and Rachael were not two fairies who fed the defendant with funds without him knowing .... Things like that may happen in fairy tales, but not in real life."

Both sides agree that there was a cash box in the office of Olmert confidant Uri Messer, and that some of the money came from American businessman Morris Talansky. But they disagree on the definition of these funds. The prosecution says the money was used for private purposes, while the defense insists it represented a legal political contribution between election campaigns.

A member of the defense asked on Thursday, "if that was private money, why wasn't it used, for example, to cover Olmert's debts at the banks?" Corb answered by saying that the defense couldn't point to any political use of the cash box.

The credibility and loyalty of Olmert's staff are among the main questions in the trial. The prosecution used Zaken, Messer, Talansky, Risby-Raz and others against the former prime minister, who in turn made complaints against each of them.

Zaken and Messer, the defense claimed, carried out financial operations without his knowledge, Talansky lied and exaggerated, and Risby-Raz was confused and succumbed to police pressure when interrogated.

Still the defense's main argument is that Olmert was victimized by a bloodthirsty system bent on forcing him to resign. The defense went so far as to include in its final arguments an article by early Zionist thinker Ahad Ha'am, addressing, no less, blood libels against the Jews.