Olmert's Trial: Not Without Turpitude

A single moment in the speech of Jerusalem District Prosecutor Eli Abarbanel at the start of Ehud Olmert's trial showed the degree to which the ex-prime minister's supporters are conducting their battle outside the courtroom as well. The daily Yedioth Ahronoth - which continues to bear Olmert on its shoulders and which has positioned itself against the state prosecution on his behalf - is conducting two battles at once. One is against Sheldon Adelson, the owner of Yedioth's main rival Israel Hayom, while the other is against Uri Corb, an aide to Abarbanel and the main prosecutor in the case.

Courtesy of Olmert crony Shmuel Hollander, the civil service commissioner, Corb has been blocked, for now, from taking part in court sessions in Olmert's case. Hollander, a sensitive person, was shocked by Corb's derogatory remarks to law students about judges. According to the way Americans do things, the lawyers defending O.J. Simpson in his murder trial could rule out one juror after another until reaching a satisfactory panel. Here in Israel there are no jurors, so they rule out the prosecutor.

How did Corb put it in a conversation during his army service with paratroopers under the authority of Regiment 890 commander Benny Gantz and company commander Nadav Hajabi? In Lebanon, during those hard times in the late 1980s, at least you could know whose side the enemy was on.

In Corb's absence, Abarbanel assumed the lead and raised the seriousness of the crimes of which Olmert stands accused: fraud and breach of trust "of a high degree, very close to bribery" when U.S. businessman Morris Talansky gave him envelopes filled with cash, "simultaneously with acts that Olmert carried out as incumbent minister on [Talansky's] behalf" at the treasury and Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. Talansky gave Olmert $15,000 "six days after Olmert wrote a letter to Adelson." Adelson, Yitzhak Tshuva and another businessman, all hotel owners, were asked by Olmert on official State of Israel stationery to help his "close, dear" friend Talansky in his efforts to sell equipment for thousands of hotel rooms.

This is where Abarbanel takes a swipe at the powers aiding Olmert: "These are businessmen with real economic interests in Israel. I believe there is a consensus on this fact."

There are three possible outcomes to Olmert's trial: acquittal, conviction without moral turpitude, and conviction with moral turpitude. If the outcome is one of the first two - or even if it's the third but President Shimon Peres and the Justice Ministry issue a pardon that survives assault in the High Court - Olmert will try to return to politics.

The prosecution must prove the allegations. The onus is entirely on it. If reports are true that there is no dispute over the dry facts - sums, dates, methods - and that the question of conviction or acquittal will depend on Olmert's personal level of responsibility for what took place, that would be enough to dash any hope of his to return to politics after the trial. This remains so even if the court adopts the most lenient view of the facts.

According to Abarbanel, Olmert deceived the state comptroller by destroying the reports on money secretly given to Talansky, gave the police a "half- true" account that was later changed, and lied to the nation in his Independence Day speech two years ago.

If Corb, Abarbanel and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador are convinced that the prosecution's case is solid, they must not surrender to the temptation to reach a lenient plea agreement that does not convict Olmert of turpitude "for the sake of the country." The judges will decide whether Olmert is innocent or guilty; whether he will be imprisoned. But the state prosecutor must not pave the way for him to return to positions in which his behavior led him to the defendant's chair.