Israeli Ex-Prime Minister Olmert Acquitted on Most Charges

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was acquitted today of corruption charges that forced him from office, although the court found him guilty of breach of trust in another case.

“The court said there were incorrect procedures involved, and not corruption,” Olmert said at the Jerusalem District Court after the verdict.

Olmert, 66, served as prime minister from the Kadima party from 2006 to 2009, and was succeeded by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu after stepping down in the face of corruption allegations. Today’s judgments relate to actions Olmert took as industry and trade minister from 2003 to 2006 and before that as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993.

“It’s a blow to the state prosecutors that they failed to indict Olmert on the major charges,” said Avraham Diskin, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Still, the odds are very slim that even after this Olmert can return to politics, as he wouldn’t be satisfied with anything but a major role and he doesn’t have a strong public following.”

Olmert was found guilty of using his position as industry minister to aid the interests of his former law partner and political associate, Uri Messer. Olmert’s lawyer, Eli Zohar, said after the verdict that he isn’t planning to appeal.

“Breach of trust is a relatively minor charge, usually resulting in a suspended sentence or public service,” Jerusalem criminal attorney Yair Golan said in a phone interview.

Further Charges

Olmert is facing further corruption charges in a separate trial for allegedly taking bribes to help facilitate the building of a Jerusalem luxury housing project.

Olmert was acquitted today on charges of failing to properly report cash payments he received over a number of years from Morris Talansky, a New York businessman and fundraiser. The other charges in which he was acquitted relate to accusations that he used the Rishon Tours travel agency for multiple billing of public and private institutions for trips he made abroad on their behalf before he became prime minister.

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador said after the verdict that the evidence justified the decision to prosecute Olmert and rejected criticism that it unfairly resulted in Olmert’s resignation.

Political Process

“It would have been wrong to let a political process that created a dynamic which led to Mr. Olmert’s resignation to have influenced the professional work of the police and prosecutors office,” Lador said at a press briefing.

Olmert said it was “impossible to avoid the far-reaching implications, both within and outside Israel as a result of the decision to bring me to trial.”

Olmert’s trial followed those of other senior government officials in recent years. Since 2008, Israeli courts have found former President Moshe Katsav guilty of rape and sentenced him to seven years in jail, sentenced former Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson to five years’ imprisonment for theft and money laundering, and convicted former Health Minister Shlomo Benizri of taking bribes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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