Two Reasons Olmert Will Want to Remember January 5

In 2006, January 5 was former PM Olmert's first day as acting PM after Ariel Sharon slipped into a coma, six years later, it was the date on which another indictment was filed against him on corruption charges.

Ehud Olmert now has two good reasons to remember the fifth of January. In 2006, January 5 was his first day as acting prime minister after Ariel Sharon slipped into a coma. Six years later, it was the date on which yet another indictment was filed against him, this time in a particularly grave corruption case: The maximum sentence for an officeholder who takes bribes is seven years in jail.

Back in 1997, Tel Aviv District Attorney Ela Rubinek listened incredulously as the first judge who ever tried Olmert, Oded Mudrik, acquitted him in a case involving fictitious invoices in Likud (the party to which Olmert belonged prior to Kadima). Indeed, Mudrik waxed lyrical in defense of the then-mayor of Jerusalem. "Pinning the crime of fraud on the mayor of Jerusalem - the City of Truth, as it is called in the Book of Zechariah - is like setting fire to cedars," he wrote.

olmert - Emil Salman - December 6 2011
Emil Salman

On Thursday, Rubinek signed an indictment against not just one former Jerusalem mayor but two: Olmert and Uri Lupolianski.

This time as well, Olmert was a Likud member throughout the period covered by the indictment.

The prosecution considered appealing Olmert's 1997 acquittal but ultimately decided against it, fearing it would be accused of persecuting him. But it learned a valuable lesson: Always request a three-judge panel in cases involving public figures, rather than having them tried by a lone judge like Mudrik - or Dan Arbel, who acquitted former and current Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman at about the same time.

Every indicted public official since then - Aryeh Deri, Yitzhak Mordechai, Haim Ramon, Moshe Katsav and Olmert - has indeed been tried by three judges. And excepting Olmert, whose trial on other corruption charges unrelated to the Holyland case is still in progress, all of them were convicted.

The person who evidently didn't learn from that earlier case is Olmert. The ink had scarcely dried on Mudrik's verdict than he was under investigation again in the 1999 Greek island case, which was ultimately closed due to insufficient evidence. Olmert treated that as a full acquittal, but as Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein noted in regard to an unrelated case this week, "insufficient evidence" is generally still enough to convince "a reasonable man" that "the suspicions still exist."

Next came the three cases for which Olmert is currently on trial: The "Rishon Tours affair," in which he allegedly double-billed nonprofit organizations for the same overseas flights and pocketed the surplus; took $600,000 in cash from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky; and abused his position as industry minister to help cronies obtain grants from the Industry Ministry's Investment Center.

And now, there's the Holyland case, in which Olmert is accused of taking bribes worth NIS 1.5 million. Other relatives and friends allegedly benefited as well: Yossi, his brother (half a million ); his office manager Shula Zaken (a third of a million); and Uri Sheetrit, a friend who was then Jerusalem's municipal engineer (NIS 1.4 million).

The case is shaping up to be a real family reunion: The prosecution's list of witnesses includes all four of the Olmert brothers - Ehud, Yossi, Amram and Yirmi - as well as Yossi's wife, Linda. Talansky will also make a guest appearance, to testify about the money he gave Yossi at Ehud's request. So will singer Yehoram Gaon.

But the star witness will be S., the alleged conduit for the bribes who turned state's evidence. The defendants wouldn't shed a tear were his health to deteriorate so badly he couldn't testify, because without him, the prosecution would find it much harder, if not downright impossible, to prove its case. Olmert's close associates are intensely loyal, and it wouldn't be easy for prosecutors to get one of them to turn against him.

When the state's agreement with S. is published is the coming days, we will learn what financial incentives persuaded him to testify. According to people involved in the agreement, they include debt forgiveness and a regular allowance. Unlike most state witnesses, S. apparently made a deal not to protect himself from criminal charges, but from civil suits.

When former finance minister Abraham Hirchson, another Olmert crony, was investigated (and ultimately convicted) of embezzlement, police found suggestions that Olmert might also have been involved. But they decided to ignore them in order to concentrate on the big prize: the Holyland case. Now, with Thursday's indictments, that decision has borne fruit.