Olmert: I Will Leave Here an Innocent Man


olmert2Ehud Olmert became the first former prime minister in Israel’s history to stand trial today, as he arrived at Yerushalayim District Court for the opening of his trial for alleged corruption.

“This is court and here the facts will be clarified, here it will be heard what we know and what we believe and I am sure that the results will confirm what I said at the start of the process,” Olmert said in a calm tone of voice.

“Several months ago, when I came here for the first time, I said that I came as an innocent man and that I would leave as an innocent man. Today, the bombastic declarations, plastic descriptions and personal slander end.”

Uri Corb was not expected to be present in the courtroom on behalf of the prosecution, with his place being filled by Jerusalem District Prosecutor Eli Abarbanel.

Corb temporarily stepped down from his leading role on the prosecution side, and has taken a temporary leave from his position as deputy Yerushalayim district prosecutor, following comments he was recorded as making against the judiciary in Israel. The prosecution, however, expects him to rejoin them at a later stage in the case.

In the wake of Corb stepping down, and following a request from the prosecution, the trial will proceed at a slower pace than usual in the coming weeks, with a single session held each week. The pace will eventually accelerate to three sessions per week.

Thursday’s session will begin with opening statements from Abarbanel, whereby he will summarize the prosecution’s arguments and present the general body of evidence. The indictment against Olmert includes charges stemming from three different corruption cases, which have come to be known as Rishon Tours, the Investment Center, and the Money Envelopes. The charges against him, among others, include bribery, fraud, breach of trust and income tax evasion.

The first witnesses to take the stand will be the police officers who investigated Olmert’s computer records. They will be followed by former employees in Olmert’s office during his tenure as Minister of Trade and Industry, and staff handling computers at the ministry.

Two former Olmert aides will take the witness stand in the coming weeks: Ra’anan Dinur, who had served as director of the Prime Minister’s Office; and Oved Yehezkel, Olmert’s former chief of staff.

During the early stages of the case, the prosecution will try to establish the importance of documents known as “Shula’s Diaries.” These were used by the woman who managed Olmert’s office, Shula Zaken – who is also a co-defendant – to document meetings and money transfers related to the Investment Center and the Money Envelopes affairs.

In the case of the Investment Center affair, Olmert is suspected of favoring, as Minister of Trade, firms that hired his friend, attorney Uri Messer. According to the indictment, Olmert acted in favor of Shemen, an oil importing firm, which sought assistance in lifting tariffs.

In another instance, it is held that Bezeq hired Messer’s services to set up a meeting between the company’s CEO and Olmert, without the participation of other ministry officials. The timing was crucial because Olmert was due to rule on a financial dispute between Bezeq and YES.

The prosecution is also attributing fraud and breach of trust charges to Olmert for not recusing himself in cases involving Messer. Olmert’s defense in these cases will be based on the argument that all of his decisions were legitimate, logical and did not always favor Messer’s position.

In the Money Envelopes affair, Olmert is accused of illegally receiving tens of thousands of dollars from U.S. businessman Moshe Talansky. Olmert is expected to argue that the money was used for campaign finance over the years and that the funds were legal contributions.

{Haaretz/Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel}