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Israel ex-prime minister corruption trial begins

[JURIST] The trial of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert [official profile; JURIST news archive] opened Friday on charges of fraud and corruption that led to his resignation last year. Olmert is accused of illegally accepting cash contributions from American businessman Moshe Talansky, double billing [JURIST reports] travel expenses to the state and charitable donors, and giving his former law partner Uri Messer access to state information. The judge from the Jerusalem District Court postponed the trial [Jerusalem Post report] until February 22 to allow Olmert to gather evidence necessary for his defense. Olmert denied [BBC report] the allegations, saying that he was confident that he would be acquitted. If convicted, Olmert faces up to five years in prison on each count. His is the first criminal trial [Haaretz report] of a current or former Israeli prime minister in the nation's history.

Olmert's trial comes after three years of allegations that he abused his official powers during his time as mayor of Jerusalem and minister of industry, trade, and labor. Attorney General Menahem Mazuz [official profile] formally indicted [JURIST report] Olmert in August. In April 2007, Olmert was investigated for improperly favoring his supporters [JURIST report] in distributing business grants during his time as trade minister. In January 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Justice announced plans to launch an investigation [JURIST report] into allegations that he promoted the interests of two business associates during the 2005 state sale of Bank Leumi [corporate website].

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