Kristine L Ming

Guilty: Court convicts former PM Olmert of bribery; 1st PM ever convicted


Completing nearly two years of what may be looked back on as the trial of the century, the Tel Aviv District Court on Monday convicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert on charges of bribery.

With a thundering ruling that will shake the country, Judge David Rozen also convicted former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, former Bank Hapoalim Chairman Dan Dankner, Olmert’s former chief-of-staff Shula Zaken and, in total, 10 out of 13 individual defendants (3 defendants are corporations.)


Rozen said that Zaken even got convicted in the prior Jerusalem corruption trial rather than testify against Olmert.

On the NIS 500,000 in bribes given to Yossi Olmert, Ehud’s brother, the court completely rejected Ehud’s story that he did not know that Duchner gave the money to Yossi. The court added that there was no reason for Duchner to give Yossi money except at Ehud’s request since they did not know each other.

Rozen said that Duchner was always careful to make sure sponsors like Olmert knew he had given bribes to secure their help with the Holyland project.

Olmert was convicted of some of the most serious bribery charges including large sums. Absent Rozen being very sympathetic since Olmert is a former prime minister (and Olmert did get this sympathy at his Jerusalem trial) he could be looking at serious jail time. Sentencing arguments in the case were scheduled to begin on April 28.

The judge completely rejected Zaken’s story that money she got from Duchner was not bribes, but part of a romance between them.

Rozen called Zaken a “central mover” in the bribery scheme,  telling the state that he is not convinced he wants to accept an easy sentence for plea bargain. He added that in light of his conviction of Olmert already, it is unclear that her evidence is a “revolution.”

Zaken agreed to a plea deal with the state which involves her agreeing to serve 11 months in jail and paying NIS 100,000, the state dropping its appeal to the Supreme Court against her acquittals on major charges (she was convicted on two minor counts) in the Jerusalem corruption trial and other provisions.

Though the state originally rejected Zaken’s new evidence as insufficient, at the start of last week, Zaken produced to the state a series of cassette tapes which the state said provide a “serious suspicion” of obstruction of justice and witness tampering against Olmert.

By moving forward with the verdict, the plea bargain reportedly could require Zaken to cooperate with the state in filing a new indictment against Olmert for the obstruction of justice charges – though the state may call it a day having gotten a conviction.

In the Holyland trial,  Olmert was accused of accepting over NIS 1.5 million in bribes (out of around NIS 9 million given to public officials in total), either directly or through Zaken or his brother Yossi to smooth over various legal and zoning obstacles. The allegations relate to the 1993-mid 2000s period while Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and Minister of Infrastructure, Trade and Industry.

The prosecution’s closing arguments already significantly backed off of the NIS 1.5 million number to around NIS 800,000.

The early days of the trial in July 2012 were difficult for Olmert and the other 15 defendants – accused of taking bribes and committing fraud.

Shmuel Duchner, who for around eight months of the trial was known only as S.D., had the floor and charged Olmert and the other defendants with a wide range of highly specific charges which he and the prosecution backed up with a mound of documents.

He said that originally, the project was only approved for building on 25,000 meters of land, while eventually 311,000 meters of land were approved for construction thanks to the bribes.

One instance of the many where Duchner said he paid bribes to Olmert through Zaken was when she requested emergency assistance to pay a NIS 50,000 debt of Olmert. He said he responded by giving Olmert’s driver $10,000 that he had on hand having just returned from abroad.

In January 2013, the prosecution added to the strength of Duchner’s charges regarding bribes he paid to Ehud’s brother Yossi (who did not testify until May 2013) at Ehud’s request, when it called Morris Talansky to testify that Ehud had similarly convinced him to pay $30,000 to Yossi in 2004.

According to the prosecution, this proved Ehud’s manner of operation in getting multiple people, not merely Duchner, to pay him bribes via helping Yossi.

Then the prosecution had several rough months during cross-examination of Duchner in which he was cornered into admitting that some of his allegations were made up to sweeten the case and that even some documents he presented, he had forged for the same purpose.

Olmert’s lawyers caught him in a dramatic moment, showing that he had done a messy photocopy job in combining unrelated documents when they showed that a telephone number on one document did not exist on the date that the document was allegedly drafted, but only existed in a completely different year.

One blow to the prosecution’s case was the death of Duchner in March 2013.

Duchner’s death not only removed the state’s main witness from pushing its case forward, but it gave Olmert’s lawyers the argument that some charges against him, for example regarding the alleged NIS 500,000 Duchner gave to Yossi, should be dropped, since they did not get to cross-examine him on those allegations at all.

But Rozen decided that enough cross-examination took place or that enough other external evidence exists to convict Olmert.

In May 2013, life was breathed back into the prosecution’s case again when Ehud’s wayward brother Yossi, testifying from the US, wrecked portions of Ehud’s narrative and built-up the credibility of Duchner’s earlier testimony.

The key point around Yossi’s testimony was whether in 2002-2003, Duchner had given him NIS 500,000 and whether Duchner did this as a bribe for Ehud’s helping move the Holyland project forward.

The prosecution said that Yossi had previously told police that he had met with Duchner and been given NIS 500,000.

Next, they said that there was no possible reason for Duchner to give Yossi these funds other than by request by Ehud.

Ehud’s simple if not entirely impermeable main defense was that Duchner was running around trying to bribe or find favor with people, but Ehud never requested or knew about it. So it was not his problem and he was not guilty.

Whether truthfully or because he can’t read a script, when Yossi testified to the court, he changed his story he told police, telling the court that he had never met Duchner or gotten money from him, but later admitted he had received money from Duchner in 1996.

Why would Yossi tell something untrue to police that would hurt Ehud more? He gave several different answers, but in one of them he likely subconsciously slipped and mentioned that Ehud was currently in the room with him (but had not been there when he admitted to police to receiving funds.) While the former prime minister came into Monday’s hearing in better shape overall than he might have predicted 14 months ago, there was serious evidence against him.

Olmert testifying was not always as good as his lawyers in that respect, sometimes going too far and getting too fancy in his arguments and denials.

With a conviction, Olmert’s career could be over and he could even face jail time.


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Article source: http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=346998&R=R2

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