[THS] Former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert indicted on corruption charges
vignes at wanadoo.fr
Tue Sep 1 13:30:52 CEST 2009
Former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert indicted on corruption charges
Fraud and other allegations led Olmert to resign last year. Public disgust over official
dishonesty has grown in Israel and brought investigations and harsh punishments.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insists he is the innocent target of biased
officials. Olmert has been indicted on three counts of corruption, becoming the first
ex-premier to face criminal charges, (David Furst / AFP/Getty Images / June 10,
By Richard Boudreaux
August 31, 2009
Reporting from Jerusalem - Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was indicted Sunday
in corruption scandals that drove him to resign last year, a long-awaited legal step
that made him the first current or former holder of Israel's most powerful office to be
charged with a criminal offense.
The decision by Atty. Gen. Menachem Mazuz will give Israelis a single judicial airing
of three cases against Olmert that, along with other scandals involving senior
government officials, have undermined public confidence in the country's politicians
in recent years.
Olmert, 63, is accused of taking illegal cash payments from a wealthy political
supporter, double-billing for trips abroad, and steering government grants to clients
of a close friend and former law partner. The allegations cover a 13-year period
when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and minister of trade and industry, but they
surfaced after he became prime minister in 2006 and weighed heavily on his capacity
to lead. He has since left politics.
The 61-page indictment filed in a Jerusalem court charges him with fraud, breach of
trust, falsification of corporate records, receipt of illicit benefits and tax evasion. A
conviction of fraud alone could mean five years in prison for Olmert.
Olmert, who led Israel as head of the centrist Kadima party, has long insisted he is
the innocent target of biased prosecutors. His spokesman said Sunday that a trial
would vindicate him.
"After bringing down an incumbent prime minister, neither the attorney general nor
the state prosecutor had any other option but to serve this indictment," said the
spokesman, Amir Dan. "The court is free of these considerations, and we are
convinced that Ehud Olmert will prove his innocence."
Many legal experts questioned that assumption. Emanuel Gross, a professor of
criminal law at Haifa University, said that "there is a basis for assuming the
prosecution did its homework and, after many months of investigation, would not
have taken the risk of indicting a former prime minister without being convinced it
had solid evidence."
Israel's television announcers treated Olmert's indictment as an anticlimax, placing it
on the evening news lineup behind a major tycoon's financial troubles, the latest
swine flu deaths and negotiations to free an Israeli soldier held by Hamas. Israelis
have become accustomed to shenanigans in high places, and Olmert's downfall was
last year's drama.
But public disgust over official malfeasance is high and has driven investigations by
the attorney general, the state prosecutor and the controller general, officials with a
degree of political independence. Judges have meted out harsh punishment in two
such cases: In June, former Finance Minister Avraham Hirshson was sentenced to
five years and five months for embezzlement; former Health Minister Shlomo Benizri
is serving a four-year sentence for bribery and fraud convictions last year.
News of such investigations was a constant backdrop to Olmert's three years in office.
One long-running probe spurred Moshe Katsav to resign as president, a ceremonial
position in Israel, while Mazuz's office weighed evidence of rape, sexual harassment
and indecent acts. Katsav was later indicted on those charges and is standing trial.
The odor of official wrongdoing did not go away when Olmert left the prime
minister's office in March after serving as its caretaker for six months following his
resignation. Avigdor Lieberman, foreign minister in the current right-leaning
government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is under investigation due to
allegations of bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The police fraud
squad recommended this month that he be indicted on those charges, which arose
In the most damaging case against the prime minister, Morris Talansky, a Jewish
American businessman and political supporter, testified last summer that he had
funneled tens of thousands of dollars to Olmert in cash-stuffed envelopes over the
years to help him in four election campaigns. He said some of that money had gone
to upgrade Olmert's flight tickets and purchase luxury goods.
boudreaux at latimes.com
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times
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