Court overturns conviction of Jewish Agency ex-chair

He was convicted in April 1996 of committing fraud and abusing the public trust for purchasing personal items at the agency's expense.

Dinitz, who called those purchases an oversight, always maintained that he was framed for political reasons.

In a somber tone, Dinitz told reporters Tuesday evening that he had received more phone calls from "friends" during the four hours after the verdict was reached than he had received in the years since charges were first brought against him.

"There have been disappointments," he said, "though there were also many friends who carried on believing in me."

Sources in the prosecutor's office criticized the verdict, which they described as the latest in a string of acquittals of public figures prosecuted in recent years for white-collar crimes.

The Jerusalem District Court found Dinitz guilty last year of charging $6,700 worth of personal merchandise on his own charge card at Syms, a New York clothing store, and then allowing the agency to pay for it.

But the court cleared Dinitz of any wrongdoing related to personal charges he made on his agency-issued American Express card.

Although the district court found that Dinitz did charge $15,400 worth of personal items with the American Express card, it accepted his claim that agency bookkeepers should have deducted these fees from his paycheck.

The court fined him some $11,000, but spared him a jail term on the grounds that he had already suffered enough.

A Tel Aviv native, Dinitz was director-general of Prime Minister Golda Meir's office from 1969 to 1973.

A former Israeli ambassador to the United States from 1973 to 1978, Dinitz assumed his agency post in December 1987.

He was forced to take a leave of absence from the agency in February 1994 when the allegations against him surfaced.

He resigned the agency chairmanship in January 1995.

At the time of Dinitz's conviction, agency Chairman Avraham Burg vowed that the agency would impose a strict monitoring system for travel and expenditures by employees and emissaries.