Ehud Olmert jailed for six years on bribery charges
Prison term for former Israeli prime minister to begin on September 1st
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert after being sentenced to six years in jail for bribery. Photograph: Reuters/Jack Guez
Ehud Olmert has been sentenced to six years in prison on bribery charges, becoming the first former prime minister in Israel to be sent to jail.
In March Olmert (68), who maintained his innocence throughout the lengthy trial, was convicted of having received bribes to facilitate the construction of the Holyland housing project when he served as Jerusalem mayor a decade ago.
The court found Olmert guilty of accepting a €104,000 bribe from the developers of the controversial Holyland apartment complex, for which planning and zoning laws were changed, in Israel’s biggest- ever corruption case.
Tel Aviv district court judge David Rosen added a finding of moral turpitude to the conviction, ending any hope Olmert had of returning to politics. He was also ordered to pay a fine of a million shekels (€211,000).
“Ehud Olmert has gone from holding the highest and most respected position in Israel to that of a felon, one who has been convicted of severe and contemptible offences,” the judge said.
Olmert lowered his head and heard the sentencing in silence as the judge addressed the packed courtroom.
“Bribery and corruption offences disgrace public service and undermine the framework of governance. He who offers a bribe is corrupt and he who accepts a bribe is no better than a traitor,” he said.
The court ruled that the prison term will begin on September 1st but Olmert’s defence team said they will appeal both the conviction and the sentence before the supreme court, and have filed a motion for a deferral of sentence, pending the results of both appeals.
Ten other government officials and businesspeople were also convicted in the Holyland affair and sentences handed down yesterday against six of them ranged from three to seven years.
Amir Dan, Olmert’s media adviser, said the court had committed a grave error by convicting a man who had never received any bribes and who had done nothing but contribute to the state of Israel.
“Unfortunately, but as expected, the court chose to impose an unfair sentence, which is radically more severe than any other sentence ever imposed for similar offences under similar circumstances,” he said.
Olmert’s lawyers had asked the court to give him only community service and argued that even an extreme interpretation of supreme court precedent could not sustain a prison sentence longer than 18 months.
Prosecution lawyer Liat Ben- Ari welcomed the sentence, saying it should serve as a milestone in Israel’s war on corruption.
“Let this be a lesson to all – those who offer and receive bribes are corrupt and they will be punished. No one is above the law.”
President Shimon Peres, a personal friend of Olmert, said the ruling was “the result of legal proceedings customary in democratic countries”.
“For me, personally, this is a sad day,” he added.
Justice minister Tzipi Livni said: “It is a difficult day when a former prime minister receives such a sentence but I have unwavering faith in the justice system and in the courts and the public should feel the same way.”
Flurry of allegations
Olmert served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009, until a flurry of corruption allegations led to his resignation.
He was acquitted of most of the major charges in separate trials but was found guilty of breach of trust and given a one-year suspended jail sentence.