Israel’s former PM Olmert charged with corruption

Date published: 30 August 2009

Source: The Guardian


Prosecutors have brought three separate cases including fraud and breach of trust against the former leader, after months of high-level inquiries that forced him from office.

Israeli prosecutors charged the former prime minister Ehud Olmert with corruption today in three separate cases after months of high-profile investigations that eventually forced him out of office.

Olmert, 63, who announced last autumn that he would resign in the face of mounting corruption allegations, continues to maintain his innocence. Indicted for the first time, he now faces the humiliating prospect of a trial.

In recent weeks prosecutors had dropped their investigations into three other cases against Olmert for lack of evidence, but today indicted him with charges including fraud and breach of trust. The cases date back to time when he was a minister and Jerusalem mayor, before he became PM in 2006.

An American businessman and long-time Olmert supporter, Morris Talansky, alleged in court last year that he gave him thousands of dollars in envelopes which he believed were spent on hotels, holidays and cigars. Olmert, he claimed, asked for the money in cash and kept no record of how it was spent. Investigators suspect Olmert broke campaign finance laws.

In a second case, Olmert is alleged to have double-billed for flights he booked through a travel agency called Rishon Tours. He was accused of falsifying receipts and using the tens of thousands of dollars surplus to pay for private family holidays. Among charities he is accused of double-billing were the Simon Weisenthal Centre, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and the World Jewish Congress, according to the Ha’aretz newspaper.

The third inquiry involves claims that Olmert gave personal favours to a former legal partner who was acting on behalf of a company known as the Israel Investments Centre. Investigators believe Olmert committed fraud and breach of trust.

In Israel there had been strong criticism of the attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, who led the investigations into Olmert. They began not long after he took office as prime minister and dogged his shortened term. After announcing his resignation last autumn, Olmert formally stepped down in March, after Binyamin Netanyahu formed a government after the general election.

Olmert seemed to have clung to the possibility of a return to political life, but any corruption conviction would swiftly put pay to that.

His premiership was much criticised from the start. He was elected on the idea that he would withdraw from parts of the occupied West Bank, but that never happened. Instead, he led Israel into a costly war in southern Lebanon in mid-2006, hoping to secure the return of two Israeli soldiers who were killed and dragged back into Lebanon by Hezbollah militants in a cross-border raid.

The war claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Lebanese and nearly 200 Israelis and provoked international condemnation, but did not bring the return of the soldiers or weaken Hezbollah. Olmert’s wartime conduct was heavily criticised in a government-appointed investigation. The soldiers’ bodies were handed back a year later in return for the release of five Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners.

Once allegations from the corruption investigations began to emerge, Olmert’s credibility seemed to weaken even further. It became so bad that in May last year, Ehud Barak, his defence minister, called on him to quit. Olmert, however, staggered on, despite some of the lowest popularity polls for any Israeli prime minister.

In the end the weight of the mounting corruption allegations, straddling at one point six separate inquiries and near-weekly rounds of questioning in his office by prosecutors, proved too much and Olmert announced his resignation. Before he stepped down he led Israel once more into a major military invasion, this time in Gaza, claiming the lives of nearly 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis and again earning international condemnation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: