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21 Dec 2009 13:21
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on Monday pleaded not guilty, denying all the graft charges against him in the first case of its kind in the history of the Jewish state.
“In the name of my client, I would like to categorically deny all charges against him,” Olmert’s lawyer, Elie Zohar, told the court, according to Israeli media.
The 64-year-old Olmert, who was present in court, is the first Israeli ex-premier to face criminal charges.
Olmert resigned as prime minister under pressure in September 2008 after police recommended he be indicted, but has always insisted on his innocence and told journalists on Friday he was confident the trial would vindicate him.
The court is due to start hearing testimony in the case on February 22 and is to hold three sessions a week.
If found guilty, Olmert could face time behind bars, although it is unclear exactly how much.
Olmert was charged in August with three counts of graft.
The 61-page indictment includes allegations of “fraud, breach of trust, registering false corporate documents and concealing fraudulent earnings”.
All the charges concern actions Olmert allegedly took before he became prime minister in May 2006, first as mayor of Jerusalem and later as trade and industry minister.
He remained in office as caretaker until late March when hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu, elected in February, was sworn in.
Olmert is accused of unlawfully accepting gifts of cash-stuffed envelopes from Jewish-American businessman Morris Talansky and of multiple-billing foreign trips.
He has also been charged with cronyism in relation to an investment centre he oversaw when he was minister of trade and industry between 2003 and 2006.
In his final months in office, Olmert was subjected to repeated police interrogations, which prompted a wave of calls for him to step down.
Israel has been dogged by scandals involving public officials in recent years.
Three former ministers have been handed prison sentences and both of the country’s most recent former presidents resigned in disgrace.
In August, police recommended that current Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman be indicted for bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The Attorney General is still mulling whether to follow the recommendation.
Former president Moshe Katsav is on trial on several counts of rape, sexual harassment and indecent acts.
And on September 1, former Cabinet ministers Avraham Hirchson and Shlomo Benizri went to jail, the former for embezzling $1-million and the latter for bribery and fraud.—AFP
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