JERUSALEM – Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen sentenced former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday morning to six years in jail on bribery charges stemming from his conviction in the Jerusalem Holyland real-estate scandal during his tenure as Jerusalem mayor. Rozen also slapped Olmert with a fine of $290,000 (one million shekels) and ordered local authorities to seize another $150,000 in funds that Olmert procured as part of the Holyland bribery case.
While Olmert defiantly maintained his innocence and his legal team vowed to appeal his sentence to the Supreme Court, Israeli legal experts and media commentators said that Olmert’s chances of avoiding jail time, which could begin as early as July, were almost nil.
Rozen excoriated Olmert for his claim of ignorance that the $150,000 (500,000 shekels) he received from Shmuel Dechner, the deceased businessmen turned state’s witness, was not a bribe. While praising Olmert as a “talented man who made significant contributions to the country” during his political career, the judge said that it was impossible for him to ignore what transpired during the Holyland scandal. He found Olmert guilty of “moral turpitude,” essentially ending his chances for a political comeback. “Those who give bribes are corrupt, but those who receive it inspire disgrace and cause the public to lose faith in the state. A public servant who accepts bribes is akin to a traitor,” declared Rozen.
This is the first time in Israel’s history that a former prime minister has been convicted of a serious crime and sentenced to serve time behind bars. Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav is currently serving a jail term for rape and other moral offenses committed during his political career.
Rozen’s conviction of Olmert last month sent shockwaves throughout the political establishment, which has been tarnished in recent years by a growing number of scandals. After Olmert’s conviction, Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani, who was fighting a series of bribery and corruption charges that could have sent him to jail for at least as long as Olmert, entered into a plea bargain last week with the state prosecutor. His plea deal will end his political career and reduce his jail sentence to about one year.
Other central figures in the Holyland scandal – including former Bank Hapoalim chairman Danny Dankner; Holyland complex owner Hillel Cherney; a “Holyland Park” company founder, Avigdor Kellner; Jerusalem’s former chief engineer Uri Sheetrit; and Jerusalem’s former deputy mayor Eli Simhayoff – were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to seven years. They were also ordered to pay substantial fines.
Olmert’s former personal secretary, Shula Zaken, who turned state’s witness at the last moment, is expected to be given an 11-month jail sentence at a hearing next month. Former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, also convicted in the case, is reportedly in poor health and thus may have his sentence reduced.
Olmert’s problems could be compounded if the Israel Police recommend that the state indict him in the coming days for obstruction of justice in the Holyland case. Recorded conversations and testimony provided by Zaken and other persons of interest allege that Olmert tried to convince Zaken not to cooperate with the prosecution and that the former prime minister offered the services of top attorneys to defend her in court.
Conviction on obstruction of justice charges would presumably result in additional jail time for Olmert.