Itongadol.- The Supreme Court and its president, Asher D. Grunis – presiding over an expanded bench of five justices – began hearing the prosecution’s appeal on Tuesday against former prime minister Ehud Olmert. The hearings, which will continue into a second day on Thursday, will determine whether Olmert can legally resume his political career.
Olmert could find himself finished with the Rishon Tours and Talansky Affairs once and for all if his acquittals stand and if the Supreme Court does not make a finding of moral turpitude for breach of public trust, the one minor crime for which he was convicted. Olmert could return to politics, for the first time in five years, if he can also emerge clean from the separate and ongoing Holyland trial in Tel Aviv.
But the prosecution is working to convince the Supreme Court to convict Olmert of a more serious crime or to find him guilty of moral turpitude for the crime of breach of public trust. The court could rule in favor of the state if it feels that the case is “too big to fail” and that a loss could hurt the state’s war against public corruption.
Filed in November, the appeal attacks Olmert’s acquittals for the more serious charges in both the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs. The appeal challenges the acquittal on charges that Olmert misled the state comptroller regarding funds he received as part of the Talansky Affair. The appeal dropped other, minor charges but asked for a harsher sentence for the conviction given in the Jerusalem District Court of breach of trust in the Investment Affair. The state had requested Olmert be given community service but he was only sentenced to a conditional sentence and a fine of NIS 75,000.
The state also appealed former Olmert confidante Shula Zaken’s acquittals in the Rishon Tours case and asked that she receive a harsher sentence for her convictions.
This partially ended speculation that Zaken would cooperate with the state in the Holyland case, in exchange for the state not appealing the acquittals.
In the Rishon Tours Affair, the state said the lower court agreed with the state’s findings that there could be no reasonable doubt that Olmert knowingly committed fraud, in light of the fact that the affair involved more than $90,000 in double-bookings of flights by his staff on his behalf, and that he had been deeply involved in the working of his staff and written correspondence to those non-profit institutions paying for his flights.
The state said the lower court had held it to an even higher and impossible standard than beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the Supreme Court should find that the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt had been met.
In the Talansky Affair, the state said the court had again entertained wildly, unlikely scenarios to acquit Olmert and to conclude that evidence did not meet the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. The state said it was impossible that Olmert had no knowledge he was committing fraud, and argued that he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from American business Moshe Talansky, and that the funds were kept in a safe, secretly administered by Zaken, and held by Olmert’s friend and associate, attorney Uri Messer.
In both cases, the state had evidentiary problems since none of Olmert’s staff or associates would cooperate. The only witness against him, Talansky, was considered problematic in terms of credibility.
The court acquitted Olmert for not reporting the Talansky funds to the state comptroller, holding that at most, Olmert had omitted doing something he should have done – reporting the funds.
The court rules that an “omission” could not be construed as an affirmative act, which was required for a conviction.
In the appeal, the state said the absence of reporting so many transfers, such a large volume of funds and of actively hiding the funds in a secret safe, qualified as enough to sustain a conviction.
The appeal also challenged the lower court’s basis for giving Olmert a light sentence in the Investment Affair.
Olmert was convicted for making decisions that helped friends and associates, regardless of his clear conflict of interest, but refused to give him any community service, saying that his being toppled from the premiership and four years fighting in court demanded a more lenient sentence.
The court had said his breach of public trust conviction was not a mere “technical” error, it also noted that he had been acquitted for the Talansky Affair, the charges which led to his downfall as prime minister, viewing this fact as being a particular injustice to Olmert.
In contrast, the state, in its appeal, quoted the Supreme Court in its refusal to reduce former president Moshe Katsav’s sentence for rape, saying because of his high position, no special leniency should be given and to emphasize that there is one law for all.