Shame on the State Attorney’s Office

As a person devoted to the rule of law, I gladly welcome the atmosphere of fear and trembling that every politician or holder of public office was forced to feel over the past several years regarding conflicts of interest, nepotism and taking bribes or favors. The fear of being indicted, having one’s political career cut short and even going to prison is a major factor in preventing corruption, keeping the political system clean and preserving integrity.

The independence and freedom of action of the State Attorney’s Office must be preserved and kept disconnected from any outside element, whether political or connected to the media.

At the same time, the large amount of power that the State Attorney’s Office possesses, with good reason, obligates its employees to act with extreme caution when they serve an indictment against an elected public official. The reason for such a high degree of caution is simple: the public official must resign his position when the indictment is presented to the court. The behavior of the State Attorney’s Office in the Ehud Olmert affair in general and the Morris Talansky affair in particular does not strengthen the status of the rule of law.

On the contrary, the behavior of the State Attorney’s Office severely compromised the system’s credibility and its ability to serve justified indictments against corrupt public officials in the future. When all is said and done, the disgrace of the Olmert case has ended up sticking to those in charge of protecting the law. They are the ones who will have difficulty keeping the public’s trust from now on.

It is hard not to wonder how the State Attorney’s Office based a false indictment and an aggressive, deadly public campaign against an incumbent prime minister on the fragmented testimony of such an unreliable person as Talansky. In this case, the State Attorney’s Office acted in an unusual manner when it asked the court to allow early testimony – a procedure that demolished Olmert’s public standing immediately without giving the defense a chance to do a cross-examination in real time. Talansky’s close association with right-wing elements should have aroused further suspicion that behind the complaint were political forces seeking to replace the Israeli government and stop the peace process that Olmert was trying to advance at the time.

It is even more difficult to understand why the State Attorney’s Office chose to embellish the indictment with an additional charge – and a bizarre and petty one at that – regarding the value of Ehud Olmert’s pen collection. Olmert was completely cleared of this charge as well. The addition of the pen affair lent even more credence to the feeling that the prosecution of the former prime minister was motivated by an over-eagerness that pushed the officials of the State Attorney’s Office into illogical places. It is not enough of an excuse to say that Olmert was partially convicted. After all, anyone can see that without the cash-filled envelopes and Rishon Tours affairs, the State Attorney’s Office would not have handed down a full indictment on the basis of Olmert’s actions in the Investment Center affair.

My familiarity with the legal system has shown me that the State Attorney’s Office hesitates to serve indictments against alleged acts of corruption by council heads in the territories, though illegal construction there is done openly and with public knowledge. I am sure that if such cases were to be treated in the same manner as the Talansky affair was, many of the settlers’ leaders would have spent the last several years in the dock. But when the charge hits the top of the pyramid, the eagerness of officials of the State Attorney’s Office to serve an indictment and move heaven and earth may overcome the need for common sense and the balanced, level-headed behavior that are obligatory when the decision is made to indict a sitting prime minister.

I do not believe in conspiracy theories. Nor do I believe that the State Attorney’s Office acted out of ulterior motives. But it is impossible to ignore the odor of negligence, arrogance and irresponsibility given off by the behavior of the State Attorney’s Office in the Olmert affair. The officials of the State Attorney’s Office must be required to answer for having relied on dubious testimony and forcing a prime minister to step down. They must be required to explain why, in this case, their over-eagerness dragged the entire legal system to a point where the citizens’ confidence in the professionalism and level-headedness of the State Prosecutor’s Office was severely compromised.

At the same time, it must be assured that the defeat of the State Attorney’s Office in court will not be translated into performance anxiety in hearings on future cases. Nor should the verdict in Olmert’s case be used to shield politicians and other public officials from indictment when there is enough solid evidence to indict them.

Published in Haaretz 11.7


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