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Whitewashing Criminal Fraud

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former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Wall Street crooks walk away free every time. So do their London counterparts and other corporate bosses.

Crime pays so why not commit it. The only penalty is nasty headlines for a few days and minor slap on the wrist fines or admonishments about promising no repeats. At least not until next week.

Most politicians also get off easy, and not just in America.

In August 2009, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was indicted in three corruption cases. They related to Rishon Tours as well as the Talansky and Investment Center affairs. More on them below.

On January 5, 2012, he and 17 others were indicted for allegedly giving or receiving bribes related to various real estate deals.

He was charged with taking bribes worth 1.5 million NISs (Israeli New Shekels).

The so-called Holyland case made headlines. It's a Jerusalem luxury housing project. Olmert was city mayor at the time. Later he was Israel Land Administration minister.

On January 8, a Haaretz editorial headlined "Holyland corruption case is a fight for Israel's soul," saying:

"The Israeli entire public must reject corruption and remove those stained by it from government."

The Holyland complex "emerge(d) as an extravagant memorial to municipal corruption, riches to entrepreneurs, fringe benefits to elected officials, and kickbacks to go-betweens."

In other words, it was business as usual for crooked profiteers and complicit politicians. Haaretz called the case "a watershed in the way the public relates to the conduct of government."

Whether those indicted are convicted or exonerated, "the system....will find it hard to present a defense...."

It's fundamentally corrupt. It's rife with bribes, kickbacks, and cronyism. Crimes are committed multiple ways. Everyone involved has both hands in the till. The resulting architecture makes Israel's skyline "ugly."

On April 26, 2010, Israel's Ynet News headlined "Der Spiegel: Israel is a corrupt country," saying:

Israelis know it. So do Germans. Headlines explain it. Der Spiegel covered it in an article headlined "The land of affairs." Jerusalem corruption is replicated throughout the country.

At the time, Der Spiegel writer Kristof Schult said Olmert might find himself in prison. So far, he got off nearly scot-free. More on that below.

His article said increasing numbers of Israelis believe their main threat is internal. He didn't mean bomb-throwing terrorists. Haaretz urged Israeli judges to "reject corruption and remove those stained by it from government."

Nearly two years after the news broke, indictments were handed down. Besides Olmert, former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and former Israel Land Administration (ILA) director Yaakov Efrati face charges.

A key prosecution witness, identified only as "S," served as middleman in corrupt deals. He told police that "in talks I held with Mayor Olmert, with chairman of the local planning and building committee Lupolianski and with members of the local committee, it was made clear to me that via the 'give and take' method, I could get (what) I desired."

"I want to stress: The hints were from those people to me, not the reverse, because I wouldn't have dared."

The deal involved developers getting huge tax breaks, additional building rights, and other benefits worth tens of millions of dirty dollars.

The Holyland Park Corporation and businessman Hillel Charney asked for plea bargain consideration on lesser charges with no indictment. He's implicated in bribing city officials.

In 1999, he got land in question rezoned for residential use. Originally it was for hotels. He won approval to build apartments. He sold part of it to Holyland Park Corporation (HPC). It's also a defendant in the case.

Like in America, Israeli corruption runs broad and deep.

From 2003 - 2007, HPC and complicit parties bribed Jerusalem officials. In return they got what they wanted. At the same time, so did others for farmland and other rezoning priorities. Months of investigation put the pieces together.

Olmert was implicated in earlier financial crimes. In 1988, he was involved in forging Likud party campaign donation receipts. Others were convicted. He got off scot-free.

He lives a charmed life. Maybe he pulls the right strings with the right people in the right places.

He faced three earlier corruption charges. They involved Rishon Tours as well as Talansky and Investment Center affairs.

On July 9, he was acquitted on Rishon Tours and Talansky charges. He was convicted only of breach of trust in the Investment Center case.

Talansky accusations forced his resignation as prime minister.

Reasonable doubt got him off. Jerusalem District Court president Mossia Arad ruled:

"The defendant's claim that he wasn't aware of it, has its problems, but there wasn't enough evidence presented to prove that his version of events isn't reasonable. (T)here were no clear directives or procedures."

The court accepted Olmert's argument about disorder in his office as prime minister, but not corruption.

"We arrived at the conclusion that the evidence does not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendants chose a course of action that would gain the defendant profits," said Arad.

"(N)o document was found in which the defendant directed Risby-Raz to collect the extra money. Indeed, there are documents that could point to the defendant's awareness of surpluses."

"(T)here was no joint fraud system by the defendant and Rishon Tours. There were no special relations with the Rishon Tours owners, and no proof of a system to produce profits."

Observers called it one of Israel's most significant corruption trials. Charges involved events occurring from 2002 - 2006. At the time, Olmert was Jerusalem mayor. Later he was ILA minister.

He was accused of double-billing $92,000. His Rishon Tours account held funds in that amount stolen from public organizations. He allegedly used it for private travel for himself and family members.

He built a relationship with Rishon Tours owner Emanuel Baumelshpiner. Charges alleged he ordered his agency to transfer funds from other customer accounts without their authorization or knowledge.

In the Talansky affair, Olmert was charged with receiving $600,000 from US businessman Morris Talansky from 1993 - 2005. In return, it was alleged he helped him with various business deals. Olmert claimed the funds were for political, not personal, use.

The court held that despite evidence of conflict of interest, none proved he used his office for criminal wrongdoing. Prosecutors failed to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt, it said. As a result, conviction isn't warranted.

Olmert was also accused of failing to disclose US businessman Joe Almaliah's donations to Israel's state comptroller as well as misleading him about their source.

Again the court ruled that prosecutors failed to make their case.

Olmert was convicted on one minor breach of trust charge. It was for failing to disqualify himself from oversight from various transactions.

Despite considerable evidence, he escaped conviction on multiple counts of fraud. Overall, he dodged a bullet, but he's not home free yet.

He still faces trial on Holyland charges. As explained above, it's for allegedly accepting bribes as Jerusalem mayor to facilitate its construction.

On July 10, Haaretz headlined "Verdict shows Olmert was no saint, but trial reflects a desecration of Israeli democracy," saying:

Talansky charges forced his resignation as prime minister. He left office "shamed and humiliated." Charges "sealed his political-public coffin."

He was publicly called a "scoundrel, a liar, a schemer and a thief." Despite his acquittal, some observers and members of his own party believe he's guilty "beyond all reasonable doubt." Exoneration doesn't prove innocence.

Even conviction only of breach of trust is no "cause for celebration or pride...." Calling his offense a "procedural impropriety" avoids issues of justice.

Holyland bribe charges remain. A key state witness will soon testify. If evidence he presents looks credible, "Olmert can expect another grueling year of process and testimonies."

If he dodges another bullet, will he attempt a political comeback? Voters will have final say on that score.

A Final Comment

Months before Rishon Tours, Talansky and Investment center charges surfaced, Gideon Levy called Olmert a "hedonistic, spendthrift prime minister, a relatively small-time, corrupt man who, like many others, did not know where to draw the line between public and private money and who - like many of his colleagues....thought that a politician deserves everything...."

He "and his transgressions will be remembered as a footnote in history," predicted Levy.

He stressed a far graver issue. It involves unequal judicial treatment for Jews and Arabs as well as Israel's rich and poor.

"Can anyone seriously claim that a wealthy (Jew) armed with a phalanx of high-priced lawyers is consigned to the same legal fate as" any Arab or ordinary Israeli, Levy asked?

Israel's legal system reveals apartheid justice as well as unequal treatment for rich and poor Jews. Stealing shekels doesn't rise to that level of criminality. It's not even discussed in judicial or political circles.

Israel has no profiles of courage able to transform itself into a legitimate, just, democratic nation respecting the rights of everyone. It remains a fundamentally flawed rogue state threatening humanity.


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