[JURIST] Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert [official profile; JURIST news archive] was acquitted of two major counts of corruption but found guilty of a third lesser charge on Tuesday in the culmination of a three-year trial. In a 700-page ruling three senior judges of a Jerusalem court rejected the prosecution’s key accusations [Reuters report] that as a cabinet minister and Jerusalem’s mayor before becoming prime minister Olmert received USD $150,000 in bribes from US businessman Moshe Talansky, and that Olmert defrauded Israeli charities by double-billing them for overseas fundraising trips, a charge popularly referred to as the Rishon Tours double-billing affair. Olmert was convicted of breach of trust for granting illegal favors to a long-time friend and business partner while serving as minister of industry, trade and labor between 2002 and 2007. Shula Zaken, Olmert’s former bureau chief and co-defendant, was cleared of charges [Guardian report] that she illegally recorded Olmert’s conversations but was convicted of acquisition through fraudulent means and breach of trust in the Rishon Tours case. Olmert’s acquittals were a surprise for many Israeli legal figures, and the verdict is largely viewed as a substantial victory for the former prime minister, who was impeached in 2008 based on the charges, including those of fraud, breach of trust, false entries in corporate documents and acquisition through fraudulent means. Olmert was found not guilty based on reasonable doubt. Sentencing for his conviction will be determined in the next few months.
Olmert has maintained his innocence through a series of scandals and allegations. He pleaded not guilty to the three corruption charges in December 2009, including the Talansky scandal and the Rishon Tours affair [JURIST reports], despite having resigned due to the charges in September 2008. Before he resigned the Israeli police raided Olmert’s offices as part of the corruption investigation [JURIST reports] launched by the Israeli Ministry of Justice. Despite his acquittals Olmert is still standing trial for bribery charges [JURIST report] relating to the construction of a luxury apartment complex during Olmert’s ten-year tenure as mayor of Jerusalem. The specific allegations are that the project’s developers, who also have been charged in the case, received zoning and tax breaks in return for the bribes to Olmert and other city officials. Olmert was indicted on the bribery charges in the case in January of this year after having been officially named as a suspect [JURIST report] in the investigation in April 2010.