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Former Israeli PM Olmert Goes on Trial in Corruption Case

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For the first time, a former Israeli leader has been put on trial.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went on trial on corruption charges that prompted him to resign last year. He spoke to reporters at the courthouse here in Jerusalem. He says he came here as an innocent person and believes his innocence will be proven.

Mr. Olmert is accused of fraud, breach of trust and failing to report income. This allegedly occurred when he served as mayor of Jerusalem and a Cabinet minister, but the allegations only surfaced after he became prime minister in 2006.

Mr. Olmert's centrist Kadima party forced him to resign a year ago, after an American Jewish businessman testified that he gave him envelopes stuffed with cash to support a lavish lifestyle, including fancy hotels, expensive cigars and first-class travel. The former prime minister is also accused of double-billing Israeli and Jewish institutions for public trips abroad and pocketing the difference.

Mr. Olmert denies it.

Mr. Olmert says that for the past three years he has been subjected to an "almost inhumane smear campaign," and he says he has "paid a heavy price."

The Olmert case is one of several recent corruption scandals that have toppled senior officials. Two former Cabinet ministers are serving jail time for embezzlement and bribery and a former president resigned amid allegations of rape.

The scandals have eroded public support in the government and left many Israelis with the feeling that public officials are hopelessly corrupt.