NOT GUILTY: The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday exonerated former prime minister Ehud Olmert of the majority of the corruption charges brought against him and which prompted his impeachment in 2008 – sending shockwaves through the legal system.
Four years after being charged with fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate records, tax evasion and receiving illicit benefits in the cases known as the Talansky Affair and the Rishon Tours double billing scandal, the court acquitted Olmert of any wrongdoing.
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The former prime minister was, however, found guilty of breach of trust in the Investment Center case.
Jerusalem District Court President Justice Moussia Arad read the executive summery of the 700-page ruling in case No. 426/09, the State vs. Ehud Olmert, over the course of an hour.
Olmert in court (Photos: Gil Yohanan)
The offenses in question allegedly took place between 2002 and 2006, when Olmert served as the mayor of Jerusalem and later as industry, trade and labor minister. Each carries a three-year mandatory prison sentence.
Olmert has maintained his innocence throughout the trial. "I'm walking into court an innocent man and I will walk out of it a vindicated one," he said when the trial began.
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Olmert's former bureau chief Shula Zaken, who was also indicted in the Rishon Tours case, was convicted of two counts of fraudulently obtaining benefits, fraud and breach of trust.
A visibly moved Olmert addressed reporters outside the court: "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."
The ruling, he continued, "Addresses the core of the indictment filed against me – and the court found me not guilty. I never defrauded anyone, not one institution or charity. There was no corruption."
Addressing his conviction for breach of trust, the former PM said: "I respect the court's decision and will act accordingly. I would like to remind you all that the court said that there was procedural impropriety in this case – not fraud and not corruption.
"As for the ramifications of this indictment – there are lessons to be learned here, and personal responsibility to be assumed by some. I leave that up to them. This isn’t the time or the place to discuss this."
Concluding his statement, Olmert said: "I do not intend to thank the court for this ruling. This was not a personal matter of 'good decision versus bad decision.' The court ruled according to the evidence, after four years and hundreds of meetings and sifting through things.
"I do however, want to thank the court for maintaining he 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.'"
'Blow to the legal system'
In a statement made following the verdict, Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel admitted that his office was surprised by the verdict.
"We didn’t except this ruling… but we can't make light of the fact that his was convicted of a very serious offence. The court criticized Olmert and found him at fault for gross conflict of interest in hid dealings with Uri Messer.
"There is a strong statement here, beyond the verdict. The court stated the a public servant cannot be involved in making decision – especially financial decisions – pertaining to his associates. Public servants are obligated to maintain the public interest, which Olmert breached time and again in his time in the Industry Ministry."
Abarbanel dismissed the notion that the State Prosecutor's Office was "out to get" Olmert, stressing that "He was tried like any other citizen would be. No one was 'out to get him' and anyone suggesting otherwise is wrong."
Senior legalists were stunned to learn of the court's ruling, which many said "came out of left field."
Many hedged that State Prosecutor Moshe Lador might have to resign following the ruling.
"This is a major shock as far as the prosecution is concerned," senior legal expert Prof. Emanuel Gross said. "This is a serious blow to the prosecution's prestige and certainly, to that of its chief, who personally pursued this case."
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