Analysis: Former PM in dock after years of allegations

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2009

The accusations against Ehud Olmert in the indictment go back 20 years, all the way to a plane ticket allegedly bought for his wife with illegal funds.

Rumours of financial wrongdoing, both on a personal level and connected to party finance, have been swirling around him since the 1970s. He still managed to become a senior minister, a two-term Jerusalem mayor, a prime minister and the second longest-serving Knesset member in Israeli history after the eternal Shimon Peres. How did he get so far and why finally now, after scaling every possible height in political life, is he facing trial?

Mr Olmert is the ultimate combination of politician and lawyer, a consummate operator in the murky corridors of power, identifying allies and enemies instinctively and sensing every possible opportunity for advancing himself.

Never one of Israel’s popular leaders, he still managed to salvage his career time and again and somehow find himself ahead.

He was the first Likud politician to create an electoral treaty with the strictly-Orthodox parties, landing him in the mayor’s office. Binyamin Netanyahu simply copied his tactics.

He was also the pioneer of the Likudniks’ turn to the left and the true spiritual father of Kadima. Ariel Sharon followed the trail blazed by Mr Olmert.

It is claimed that his insatiable appetite for the good life and travel, first-class plane tickets, tailored suits, a $2 million home that he could probably never have afforded on public pay, the Cohibas and Champions League tickets and the antique pens collection (valued at NIS 1.3 million) would have been financed by loans from foreign businessmen with financial interests in Israel and backhanders in brown envelopes.

It is also suggested that his legal expertise enabled him to constantly cover his tracks.

Ultimately, however, he overreached himself. His natural charm could not keep all the journalists in thrall, his innate caution was insufficient to tie all the loose ends and an insistent State Comptroller and resolute Attorney General joined forces to pursue him. The disastrous results of the Second Lebanon War drove his approval ratings down to single digits and made him an easy target.

And still, it took the breakdown of one of his oldest friends, lawyer Uriel Messer, who became state’s witness, to finally put him in the dock.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010