Olmert exonerated on corruption charges that prompted his resignation

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was exonerated on corruption charges that prompted his resignation from office four years ago.

The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday acquitted Olmert on charges of fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and falsifying corporate records in what became known as the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. He was found guilty on a lesser charge of breach of trust in the Investment Center case.

Olmert is expected to appeal the breach of trust conviction, which would carry a prison sentence and make him the first Israeli prime minister to go behind bars. He had pleaded not guilty on all charges.

In a statement made after the executive summary of the decision was read, Olmert said, "After over four years this case has finally come to its end. Four years ago the media was riddled with reports of ‘cash envelopes’ and illicit money. Well, today the court found that there was no such thing.

"This was not corruption, there were no cash-filled envelopes, there was no bribery, there was no illicit use of funds," he added.

Olmert thanked the court for "maintaining the dignity of the proceedings. I feel the need to quote a man I admire, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who once said, ‘There are judges in Jerusalem.’ "

On trial for the last two years, Olmert was accused of allegedly paying for family vacations by double billing Jewish organizations through the Rishon Tours travel agency; allegedly accepting envelopes full of cash from American businessman Morris Talansky; and allegedly granting personal favors to attorney Uri Messer when he served as trade minister in the Investment Center case. The charges were filed after he became prime minister in 2006, but covered his time as mayor of Jerusalem and later as a government minister.

Olmert is the first former Israeli prime minister to stand trial. He officially resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police investigators recommended that he be indicted.

His former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, was convicted on two counts of fraudulently obtaining benefits and fraud, and breach of trust in the Rishon Tours case.

Political leaders and leaders in the legal sphere called for the resignation of State Prosecutor Moshe Lador in light of the decisions, with some saying he changed the course of Israel’s political history. 

Olmert likely will again see the inside of a courtroom. In January, he was indicted on bribery charges in one of Israel’s largest corruption scandals. The indictment accuses Olmert of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes during the construction of the Holyland apartment project in Jerusalem when he was mayor of the city and then trade minister. Seventeen others have been indicted in the case, including Zaken and Olmert’s successor as Jerusalem mayor, Uri Lupolianski.
 
 

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