Olmert trial opens despite delay threat

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 25, 2010
Ehud Olmert: facing three charges

Ehud Olmert: facing three charges

The trial of Israel's former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was due to open on Thursday in the Jerusalem District Court. He is being charged over three separate cases of corruption.
Mr Olmert, who was forced to resign last year over the allegations, was indicted in September on charges of fraud, breach of trust, falsifying records, tax evasions and fraudulently obtaining benefits.

The State Prosecution has combined the three cases together. The first charge concerns American businessman Morris Talansky, who claims to have given Mr Olmert large sums of money which were not reported. The second concerns the Rishon Tours travel company. Mr Olmert is suspected of double-billing for appearances abroad and using the proceeds to finance travel overseas for him and his family. The third is the Investment Centre case, in which he was alleged as Trade and Industry Minister to favour clients of his former law office partner, Uri Messer, for government grants.

Mr Messer, who had the charges against him dropped two months ago, is expected to be a state witness. Mr Olmert will be joined in the dock by his personal assistant, Shula Zaken.

Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel will lead the prosecution after the leading attorney on the case, his deputy Uri Korb, was suspended last week. It emerged that, three months ago during a lecture, Mr Korb had called judges "donkeys" and said they did not use common sense in court.

As a result of his suspension, the State Prosecution requested a three-month delay in the start of the trial, since Mr Korb had been the leading counsel and worked with police investigators for over a year. The court refused the request, and Mr Korb will be retained as adviser to the prosecutor's team.

Friends of Mr Korb accused the former prime minister's circle of being behind the leak at a crucial moment before the opening of the trial, a charge Mr Olmert's office rejected.

Navot Tel-Zur, a senior attorney on Mr Olmert's defence team, said that the defence would not be seeking a plea bargain and that they had ample evidence to refute the allegations.

    Last updated: 4:23pm, February 25 2010