As his trial opens, Olmert still hopes to re­turn to pub­lic life

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News -

LAST FRI­DAY, For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert set off on a road that could take him to prison, or back to na­tional lead­er­ship.

“I have come here as an in­no­cent man,” he told the as­sem­bled me­dia on the first day of his trial in Jerusalem, “and I be­lieve that I will leave without any charge.”

Al­though Mr Olmert — the first for­mer Is­raeli PM to stand trial — would not sig­nal his plans for af­ter the trial, his close friends have no doubt.

“Ehud be­lieves he is in­no­cent,” said one of them, “and once that is fi­nally proven, no -one will be able to stop him from re­turn­ing. When the al­ter­na­tives are Bibi and Barak, the pub­lic will be ea­ger for a re­spon­si­ble and ex­pe­ri­enced leader.”

On the eve of his trial, Mr Olmert gave an in­ter­view to the BBC, de­tail­ing the of­fers he made to the Pales­tini­ans as prime min­is­ter. Two months ago he wrote an op-ed piece for the Wash­ing­ton Post along sim­i­lar lines, both signs that he still sees him­self a states­man.

Charged with fraud­u­lent re­ceipt of goods, false regis­tra­tion of cor­po­rate doc­u­ments, fraud, breach of trust, and tax eva­sion in three sep­a­rate cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Mr Olmert is spar­ing no costs. His de­fence team is headed by one of Is­rael’s lead­ing “white col­lar case” at­tor­neys, Eli Zo­har, and in­cludes five of Is­rael’s most ex­pe­ri­enced and ex­pen­sive lawyers, a press ad­viser and pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

In a case that will prob­a­bly last more than two years, the cost of such a team would nor­mally ex­ceed $1 mil­lion, though due to the promi­nence of the ac­cused, and the fact that at least some of the lawyers are per­sonal friends of his, it is pos­si­ble he will be charged a bit less.

Fri­day’s hear­ing was mainly pro­ce­dural and dealt with the trial’s sched­ule. The ev­i­den­tiary hear­ings are now set to start in Fe­bru­ary, when the real work will be­gin.

The charges against Mr Olmert in the Ris­hon Tours dou­ble-billing scan­dal, the “Talan­sky cash en­velopes” af­fair and the “in­vest­ment cen­tre” case are such that, if found guilty, he could be sent to prison.

It is not clear yet how the le­gal sys­tem would deal with a sit­u­a­tion in which a for­mer prime min­is­ter, a man who has all Is­rael’s strate­gic se­crets in his head and is pro­tected for life by Gen­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice body­guards, could pos­si­bly sit in prison, which may lead to the pos­si­bil­ity of a plea bar­gain. But for now nei­ther side seems will­ing to con­tem­plate such a deal.

For At­tor­ney Gen­eral Meni Mazuz and State Pros­e­cu­tor Moshe Lador, any sign that they are will­ing to dis­cuss a deal would be an ad­mis­sion that their case is not strong enough. If so, why did they rush to in­dict a serv­ing premier, ul­ti­mately im­pos­ing elec­tions on the coun­try?

Nor does Mr Olmert want to con­sider a bar­gain at this stage. Even if a plea bar­gain would keep him out of prison, it would mean that he would have to give up any plan of ever re­turn­ing to pub­lic life.

The for­mer premier on his way into court, on charges of cor­rup­tion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.