Olmert acquitted on major criminal charges

JERUSALEM – Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli Prime Minister, has been acquitted of criminal charges in two out of out three cases in a rare triple trial.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert emerged from the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday morning promising this will not be the last the public hears from him. With his trademark smile on his face towards the end of his comments to the press, Olmert  said he felt vindicated by the decision delivered by a “respectable” court. Olmert repeatedly stated “there were no envelopes, there were no envelopes,” a reference to the accusations he accepted cash bribes prior to his position as Israeli premiere. Olmert was convicted of a lesser charge of “breach of trust” in the “Investment Center” case, which is unlikely to carry a prison term.

Speaking thirty minutes prior, Olmert’s attorney verbally attacked the attorney general’s office for what he said was a witch-hunt against his client, insisting on a speedy trial and immediate revelation of facts that would “shake the earth.” Olmert’s legal team suggested the attorney general acted out of line and as part of a concerted effort to topple Olmert. The 2008 charges led to Olmert’s resignation as head of the center-right Kadima party, and to the end of his tenure as prime minister. He was replaced temporarily by Tzipi Livni, then serving as foreign minister, who eventually lost in the elections to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The charges against Olmert stemmed from his earlier positions as mayor of Jerusalem and as minister of trade. The trial was unique for a number of reasons, not least of which because it involved a former prime minister. Additionally, it was heard before three judges, as opposed to one, and encompassed three different cases – the Investment Center, the “Talansky” case (a reference to American businessman and rabbi Morris Talansky) and the “Rishon Tours” case (a reference to Olmert’s private tour company), in which he was accused of knowingly double- and triple-billing Jewish organizations and pocketing the profits. Olmert restated his innocence:

This was no corruption, there were no cash-filled envelopes, there was no bribery, there was no illicit use of funds.  The Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs were the heart of the prosecution’s claim against me, and I was acquitted in both cases.

Olmert’s attorney indicated he will not appeal the guilty verdict (on the lesser charge) if the Attorney General’s office does not appeal the acquittal (on the greater charges).  But Olmert also still faces a legal battle in the so-called “Holy Land” case, which centers around his involved in a housing project in West Jerusalem.

In December 2011, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav began serving a 7-year prison sentence after being found guilty on charges of rape.