Israel ex-PM Olmert cleared on key graft charges: Media

AFP , Tuesday 10 Jul 2012

Ehud Olmert is acquitted on two corruption charges, which forced him to resign from his post, while found guilty on a lesser charge

Israel's former prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks during a conference in Jerusalem, 2009 (Photo: AP)

An Israeli court acquitted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on two key corruption charges on Tuesday while finding him guilty on a lesser charge, media reported.

The Jerusalem district court cleared Olmert on charges of receiving cash-stuffed envelopes and falsely billing trips abroad multiple times, but convicted him on the charge of granting favours to a former colleague during his time as a minister.

Olmert still faces a second trial over allegations he accepted bribes during his time as Jerusalem mayor to smooth the way for the construction of the massive Holyland residential complex in the city.

But his acquittal on the most serious charges against him in this trial, including the allegations that forced him to resign from his post as prime minister in 2008, will be seen as a victory for the former leader.

Olmert faced three primary allegations in the first trial against him.

The first charge related to favours he granted a former colleague, Uri Messer, while Olmert was serving as trade and industry minister.

Olmert was also accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Jewish-American businessman Morris Talanski, in return for promoting his companies in Israel.

And he was alleged to have engaged in multiple-billing of trips overseas, on occasions charging as many as four different institutions for the same trip, in what was dubbed the Rishon Tours affair in reference the travel agency involved in the case.

The former prime minister was convicted on the first charge relating to Messer, but acquitted of having received money from Talanski or fraudulently overbilling for trips abroad, Israeli media said.

Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 after which he served as a cabinet minister, holding the trade and industry portfolio as well as several others, before becoming premier in 2006.

He led the centre-right Kadima party into government, but resigned from the premiership in September 2008 after police recommended he be indicted in several graft cases.

He has consistently proclaimed his innocence, calling the allegations against him a "ruthless witch-hunt" and could even stage a return to politics if he is similarly acquitted in the so-called Holyland case.­

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