Israel's Olmert indicted for corruption

He is the country's first former prime minister to face criminal charges. The case may signal a more aggressive judicial effort to fight political corruption.

Prosecutors in Israel have indicted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on a series of corruption charges that accuse him of taking envelopes stuffed with cash, falsely billing the government for official trips, and directing business to close allies. He is the first former prime minister in Israel’s history to face criminal charges.

The litigation to follow is likely to roil Israel, with hundreds of high profile Israeli citizens named as witnesses. Already the 70-page indictment, filed on Sunday, has caused a sensation by exposing the alleged web of connections between those citizens and senior establishment officials, according to Haaretz, a liberal newspaper in Israel.

Haaretz's Aluf Benn has called the indictment the “battle of [Olmert’s] life,” and also argues that the case may highlight a new judicial effort to combat the rampant corruption within Israel’s political system.

It can reflect the depth of the corruption and decay of the Israeli political system. But it can also reflect the fearless attitude of the legal system toward politicians….
Irrespective of the result, the indictment describes a complete breakdown of the system of regulation that is meant to ensure that the leaders of the country keep their hands clean.

Olmert had resigned amid investigation

Ehud Olmert was elected prime minister in 2006. But he stepped down in 2008 when he “became the focus of a graft and bribery investigation, prompting a growing number of political allies to call for his resignation,” as the Christian Science Monitor reported.

The indictments, which follow months of investigation, cover four separate investigations into Olmert’s tenure as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003, and his post as minister of Industry and Trade from 2003 to 2006. According to the Jerusalem Post, they include:

... the so-called Rishon Tours affair; Olmert's relations with his close friend, attorney Uri Messer, and US financial backer Moshe Talansky; his alleged deceptions of the State Comptroller's Office; and Zaken's alleged wiretapping of Olmert's conversations.

$100,000 for family trips?

The Post details:

Altogether, Olmert over-charged the state and these organizations by $92,000, according to the charge sheet. The money was allegedly kept in a secret account by the Rishon Tours tourist agency and members of Olmert's family used it for their private trips. The family trips added up to $100,000. Instead of Olmert making up the difference from his own pocket, Rishon Tours allegedly siphoned off the money from other clients without their knowledge.

The Post adds that Olmert also received $600,000 from American businessman Moshe Talansky. Olmert allegedly never reported the income.

Other politicians have also faced charges

The indictments against Olmert are “the latest in a recent string of cases involving corruption and other allegations against senior Israeli public officials,” reports the Financial Times.

The officials include Avraham Hirschson, Mr Olmert's former finance minister, who was convicted in June of embezzling about $500,000, and Moshe Katsav, the former Israeli president, who is being tried on allegations of rape and other sexual offences.
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