Olmert pleads innocence as fraud trial opens

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proclaimed his innocence in a Jerusalem court as proceedings began Friday in his high-profile corruption trial.

“For the past three years, I have been subject to an almost inhumane system of smearing and investigations, and have naturally paid a heavy price for this period of time,” Olmert said in a prepared statement. “Now is the time for facts, and only facts. I have come here as an innocent man, and I believe I’ll come out of here an innocent man.” Olmert was indicted on a variety of corruption charges in a probe that dogged his last months in office, according to prosecutors. He served as Jerusalem’s mayor from 1993 to 2003, and held several Cabinet posts under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma since a stroke in 2006. Olmert succeeded Sharon after his stroke. Olmert announced his resignation in September 2008, after the corruption investigation deepened, and left office after a new government took power in March. Prosecutors accuse Olmert of double-billing government agencies for travel, taking cash from an American businessman in exchange for official favors and acting on behalf of his former law partner’s clients.