The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s appeal against his conviction in the “cash envelopes” affair in which he accepted cash-filled envelopes from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky.
Olmert will thus serve another eight months in prison, on top of the 19 months he is serving for his bribery conviction in the Holyland corruption affair – involving the construction of a luxury apartment complex in Jerusalem.
The court also rejected the state’s appeal against Olmert’s acquittal in the so-called Rishon Tours affair in which he was charged with double-billing organizations for overseas trips.
The court also rejected the state’s appeal against Olmert’s suspended sentence for using his influence at the government’s Investment Center to help a crony.
Olmert won the Rishon Tours decision in a 3-2 vote. Justices Salim Joubran, Neal Hendel and Zvi Zylbertal upheld the acquittal, while Uzi Vogelman and Isaac Amit sought a conviction. The case covered 17 trips abroad by Olmert when he was mayor of Jerusalem and minister of industry and trade.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Jerusalem District Court that there was insufficient evidence that Olmert was aware of the double-billing, and the Supreme Court agreed.
“We cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Olmert was aware of the collection of surplus funds from the foreign organizations to pay for his trips,” wrote Joubran for the majority opinion.
“It is possible to accept Olmert’s claim, if only for reasons of doubt, that he did not go into every detail of his office’s affairs and that he relied on his staff – particularly those whom he trusted – to take care of the various aspects of his work.”
Vogelman focused on four trips for which Olmert’s handwriting appeared on documents. For two trips, he even instructed aide Rachael Risby-Raz to collect surplus funds from the organizations on whose behalf he flew abroad.
According to Vogelman, these documents proved that Olmert was aware of the double-billing.
“The story of the Rishon Tours affair is composed of hundreds of pieces of evidence and numerous testimonies. But in the end it’s a simple story. It’s the story of a minister who received surplus funds from organizations he wanted to serve, after they were shown fraudulent information,” Vogelman wrote.
“I found no reasonable basis for the defense’s theory that for years various employees worked in the service of their boss, a man of many talents, yet criminal acts that were committed in his name and on his behalf – and for which there is documentation in his handwriting – were committed without his knowledge.”
Olmert lost the Talansky appeal in a unanimous decision. In 2012, Olmert had been acquitted in that case, with the Jerusalem District Court ruling that there was no way of knowing that Olmert used the money for private rather than political purposes.
But in 2014, his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, signed a plea deal with the State Prosecutor’s Office; it turned out she had taped Olmert, providing evidence that the money was used for private purposes. The Supreme Court returned the case to the district court, where Olmert was convicted in March 2015.
As Justice Amit put it, “The overall picture of the facts – a public figure receives envelopes containing cash and secretly transfers them to a private coffer, and $150,000 disappears from the coffer – speaks for itself.”
The justices also unanimously rejected the state’s appeal that Olmert receive a prison sentence for his role in the Investment Center case. In that case, he received a suspended sentence for fraud and breach of trust.
“And so the curtain falls on the last act in the affairs known as Rishon Tours, Talansky and the Investment Center,” Joubran wrote. “The man who was a senior government minister, a deputy prime minister and later even prime minister will now serve another sentence behind bars. End of story.”
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