Corruption storm peaks in Israel

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2009
Got a headache? Former PM Ehud Olmert

Got a headache? Former PM Ehud Olmert

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was charged on Sunday with serious fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate records, receiving illicit benefits and tax evasion.

Meanwhile former Shas minister Shlomo Benizri this week began a four-year jail sentence for bribery; former finance minister Avraham Hirchson began a five-year jail sentence for embezzlement of funds; and former President Moshe Katsav’s trial for rape opened.

The indictment against Mr Olmert includes three main accusations. First, that for eight years as Jerusalem mayor and a senior minister, he received more than $600,000 from American businessman Morris Talansky.

Second, that as Trade and Industry Minister, he changed grant decisions to favour clients of his friend, lawyer Uriel Messer. Mr Messer held a secret fund of hundreds of thousands of dollars at Mr Olmert’s disposal.

Third, that he financed $100,000 worth of plane tickets for his family by illegally charging charitable organisations for trips that were already financed by other organisations.

In addition he is accused of lying to the State Comptroller when he reported that his pen collection was worth NIS140,000, a tenth of their value, and of failing to disclose a $100,000 loan from an American businessman.

Mr Olmert’s lawyers said the indictment “piles up details that are irrelevant, ascribing a criminal meaning to his actions, even where there is no evidence of any wrongdoing”.

The list of prosecution witnesses is 280 names long and includes senior government officials, tycoons from Israel and abroad and Mr Messer, who is expected to serve as state’s witness.

The case, to be heard in the Jerusalem District Court, is expected to last for at least three years.

Last updated: 11:21am, September 3 2009