Former Israeli PM cleared of most corruption charges
FORMER ISRAELI prime minister Ehud Olmert has been acquitted of major graft charges that prompted him to resign from office, but has been found guilty of breach of trust.
The court will rule in September whether the conviction carries a prison term or mere moral turpitude, which would prevent Mr Olmert’s return to politics.
The verdict, handed down at the Jerusalem district court, was seen as a major victory for Mr Olmert (66). who said he had been exonerated of corruption. It ends a four-year legal battle which marked the first criminal trial of a former Israeli prime minister.
Three affairs were under investigation: the Talansky affair, in which Mr Olmert was suspected of receiving €120,000 from US Jewish businessman Morris Talansky; the Rishon Tours affair, in which Mr Olmert was suspected of pocketing €75,000 by double- and triple-billing Israeli charities for fundraising trips abroad, and the investment centre affair, where he was suspected of helping to advance the interests of former law partner Uri Messer.
The court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict Mr Olmert in the first two cases, which had prompted him to step down as prime minister in 2009. However, he was convicted of breach of trust and granting favours to Mr Messer.
The offences in question allegedly took place between 2002 and 2006, when Mr Olmert served as the mayor of Jerusalem and later as industry, trade and labour minister.
Mr Olmert, who maintained his innocence throughout the trial, was visibly relieved after the verdict.
“Four years ago, the media was riddled with reports of cash-stuffed envelopes and illicit money. Well, today the court found that there was no such thing,” he told reporters. “I never defrauded anyone, not one institution or charity. There was no corruption.”
However Mr Olmert is not in the clear just yet. He is still facing even more serious corruption charges in the ongoing Holyland affair, in which he is suspected of receiving millions of euros in bribes while serving as Jerusalem mayor to advance the Holyland housing project. It has been described as Israel’s biggest ever corruption trial.
When Mr Olmert stepped down he was still conducting peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but Palestinian officials have rejected his claim that the two sides were close to a deal.