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Olmert graft trial opens in Jerusalem
Fri Sep 25, 2009 12:07pm EDT
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By Joseph Nasr
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went on trial in Jerusalem on Friday on corruption charges, confidently predicting he would be acquitted of fraud, breach of trust and failure to report income.
"I came here as an innocent person and I believe my innocence will be proven," said the 64-year-old centrist politician, who was forced to stand down last year after allegations that he took cash for favors.
The court session lasted about an hour, said Olmert media adviser Amir Dan.
Olmert is the first Israeli premier to stand trial.
He was succeeded as Kadima party leader last September by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who won most votes in the general election last spring but failed to secure a viable coalition, and stayed on as caretaker prime minister until March this year.
Rightist Benjamin Netanyahu took over as head of government.
Olmert told reporters outside the courtroom that he had been the target of an "unfair" legal witchhunt for three years and was anxious to clear his name. He denies any wrongdoing.
He is accused of taking money from a U.S. businessman, advancing the interests of clients of a former law partner and double-billing charities for expenses incurred on fund-raisers.
Olmert's alleged crimes relate to his time as mayor of Jerusalem and as industry and trade minister before he became prime minister in 2006 as head of the centrist Kadima party.
Legal experts say if he is found guilty he could face up to five years in jail for each of the four charges.
Olmert is next expected in court in December and evidence against the former leader will first be presented in February, Olmert adviser Dan said.
A U.S. businessman has testified that he gave Olmert envelopes stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Olmert says the money was used for electioneering, denying he benefited personally in return for advancing the businessman's interests.
Olmert's trial is the latest in a series of scandals involving politicians in a country where legal authorities say they are waging a battle against corruption. In June, Israeli courts sent two former cabinet ministers to jail for corruption.
Olmert resigned as prime minister in September 2008 but stayed on as caretaker until March 2009 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-leaning government was sworn in. Continued...
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