Israel's Olmert acquitted on major corruption charges

Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:27am EDT
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By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's Ehud Olmert was acquitted of major corruption charges on Tuesday but convicted of breach of trust, a lesser offence, in what was widely seen as a stunning victory for the former prime minister.

Olmert resigned as the country's leader in 2008 after the allegations surfaced, cutting short his pursuit of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The three-judge court's rejection of key accusations that drove the veteran politician from office raised questions in Israel about whether prosecutors had been overzealous in effectively bringing down a sitting prime minister.

"There is justice in Jerusalem," a gaunt-looking Olmert, 66, said after the ruling. Smiling broadly, he left the courthouse to a smattering of applause, hugging and kissing well-wishers.

The verdict, which defied widespread expectations of a full conviction, capped the first criminal trial of a former Israeli premier - proceedings that grabbed headlines with accounts of Olmert pocketing cash-stuffed envelopes and enjoying a lavish lifestyle of expensive cigars and luxury hotels.

The court found Olmert not guilty of charges that he received, as a cabinet minister and Jerusalem's mayor before becoming prime minister, $150,000 in bribes from a U.S. businessman and defrauded Israeli charities by double-billing them for overseas fundraising trips.

But it said he was in breach of trust when, as trade and industry minister, he green-lighted projects that involved one of his long-time friends.

The conviction carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment, and the court said it would begin hearing arguments on sentencing in September.   Continued...

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert (C) smiles after a mixed verdict in his trial at Jerusalem District court July 10, 2012. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool