Olmert Indictment / Why Are the Charges So Serious?

In past affairs, Olmert had others to share the responsibility. This time he is alone, in the center.

1. Ehud Olmert embarked yesterday on the battle of his life against serious charges which present him as a thief, a liar and a serial grafter. The dry language of the Jerusalem District prosecution, drowned in details, tells a fascinating story of the complex connections of a senior Israeli politician who traveled abroad a great deal with businessmen, Jewish organizations and corporations.

Beyond the serious charges of "bribery under aggravated circumstances," we are offered here the tangled logistics of the Olmert bureau and details of his travel abroad. It is mandatory reading for anyone interested in public administration.

All of Olmert's past challenges, in politics and in court, are diminished by the indictment that was brought against him with regards to Rishon Tours, the cash envelopes, and the Investment Center affairs.How can these compare to the Likud receipts affair of 20 yeas ago, for which he was exonerated? How can this compare to the Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War, which he survived and remained in power?

In past affairs, Olmert had others to share the responsibility. This time he is alone, in the center, and only Shula Zaken is at his side.By giving up the right to a hearing, Olmert has once more revealed well known qualities: stubbornness and willingness to fight. Now he will have to prove that his image as an experienced attorney who knows to escape from trouble was an accurate one.

It will not be easy. If it works, he will probably look for a political come back in the hope that the conduct of his successors would have stirred nostalgia for his rule.

2. Menachem Mazuz began as attorney general five and a half years ago by closing the Greek island case against former prime minister Ariel Sharon, contrary to the view of some of the senior officials in his office, including State Prosecutor Edna Arbel.

In January, Mazuz's tenure comes to an end, having indicted former president Moshe Katsav, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, former minister of justice Haim Ramon, former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, and maybe also Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The man who was described when he was appointed as "a man of the system" has become the nightmare of politicians and senior officials. No attorney general before had to deal with so many suspects at this senior level.

The impressive list of accused that Mazuz has collected can be read in two ways. It can reflect the depth of the corruption and decay of the Israeli political system. But it can also reflect the fearless attitude of the legal system toward politicians. It is still to early to tell whether the serial charges have also created a deterrent.

3. The list of 280 witnesses for the prosecution in the Olmert trial reads like a list of the Most Influential Persons published by TheMarker. It is not clear whether they will all be invited to testify in court, but it is fascinating to follow the connections of the senior figures in the Israeli establishment, as they are exposed in the indictment.

4. Olmert's guilt or innocence will emerge in court. Irrespective of the result, the indictment describes a complete breakdown of the system of regulation that is meant to ensure that the leaders of the country keep their hands clean.

The suspicions against Olmert in the more serious cases of Rishon Tours and the money envelopes emerged completely by chance as off-shoots of less troubling cases. A little more care on the part of the suspects, a little less attention on the part of the investigators, and everything would have remained under wraps.

The rules of ethics governing ministers require them to declare to the State Comptroller their economic standing, their income and that of their family members. Prior to the indictment Olmert signed false declarations for years. Under the existing system, the comptroller has no means of substance with which to evaluate the information.

Contrary to the declarations of the MKs on additional income, which are published, those of the ministers are kept in the safe of the State Comptroller. It might be worthwhile to consider revealing them and to carry out spot tests on their truthfulness.

The indictment also reveals that the oversight system at the General Accountant's Office of the Finance Ministry, on expenses of ministries, is full of holes.