Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert speaks to the press at the District Court in Jerusalem. He was found guilty of a corruption charge in the first criminal trial. AFP photo
Ehud Olmert was found guilty yesterday of a corruption charge in the first criminal trial of a former Israeli prime minister, but acquitted on two other counts in what was widely seen as a significant victory for him.
Although Olmert was convicted of fraud and breach of trust, he was found not guilty on more serious charges that included allegations he received cash bribes from a U.S. businessman and double-billed Israeli charities for overseas fund-raising trips. It was not immediately clear when Olmert, 66, would be sentenced. If that crime, breach of trust, does carry a prison term, he would become the first Israeli prime minister to serve time. He could face up to five years in jail.
The former prime minister is also battling, in a separate case, charges over the construction of a hulking luxury apartment complex that dominates a Jerusalem hilltop. Olmert was accused of taking some $150,000 from the U.S. businessman, pocketing more than $92,000 by double-billing the charities and helping to advance the business interests of a long-time friend.
The court convicted him only in connection with aiding his friend while serving as minister of trade and industry before becoming prime minister in 2006. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper described the verdict on its website as a “crushing defeat” for the prosecution. Ynet news site, called the outcome a “legal earthquake,” confounding widespread expectations of a triple conviction.
The U.S. businessman, Morris Talansky, testified that he gave Olmert envelopes containing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Olmert says the money was used for electioneering, denying he benefited personally in return for advancing the businessman’s interests. The court said prosecutors had failed to prove the payments were illegal.
Olmert resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after the accusations surfaced, saying he wanted to clear his name. But he stayed on as caretaker until March 2009 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was sworn in.