Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced Tuesday morning to serve six years in prison. The judge also imposed a fine of NIS 1 million ($289,000.) He ordered authorities to seize NIS 500,000 in funds the former prime minister has collected from various sources, including numerous speaking engagements in the United States.
Olmert was ordered to begin serving his prison sentence on September 1, pending appeal.
Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rosen handed down the sentence in what has become known as the famed “Holyland trial” after Olmert was convicted on two charges of bribery.
The former prime minister was convicted of taking bribes from contractors who built the Holyland residential complex near the Malha Mall in Jerusalem.
The rezoning and other “adjustments” that came in exchange for bribes continued through the 1990s and into the next decade. These were the years in which Olmert served as mayor of the capital city and minister of industry, trade and infrastructure. Both were pivotal posts from which to smooth the way for the developers of the Holyland project.
Olmert was also recently questioned on suspicion of witness tampering and obstruction of justice, according to Israel’s Channel 2 television. The allegations are based on recordings given to police by former Olmert aide Shula Zaken, his closest aide, also convicted in the wide-ranging Holyland scandal. Zaken gave police the recordings as part of her plea bargain with the prosecution.
The Holyland trial has dragged on for years, tainting Olmert’s term as prime minister and shadowing the country’s years beyond while bringing down numerous aides and colleagues.
Before pronouncing sentence, the judge pointed out that Olmert is an “intelligent, brilliant people person” and called him an “avid Zionist.” He praised him for donating to bereaved families and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center.
But he then sharply reprimanded the former state leader, saying “The crime of bribery pollutes public service, destroys governments…” and called it “one of the worst crimes.”
Rosen said Olmert was guilty of moral turpitude — a term that means the ex-politican will be forced to wait at least seven years before re-entering the field. The judge added that those who take bribes are equivalent to “traitors” in their betrayal of the public trust.
To punish that betrayal, the judge revoked the 10 percent of Olmert’s mayoral pension.
Olmert has been convicted previously charges of corruption. In 2012, he was pronounced guilty of taking bribes in a Jerusalem case.
That trial earned the former mayor and subsequent minister and prime minister a light sentence of community service only. The judge in the case said in his decision that Olmert’s state leadership as prime minister had afforded him the right to leniency.
Not so today, however. Judge Rosen said in his decision that the higher the post of the public servant, the harsher the punishment for bribery should be.
“Those who belong to the social and economic elite of the nation should not be held to the same standard as those in common society,” Rosen said. He added in explanation that his hands were tied by law in meting out the punishment, and that he was enjoined by those legal guidelines to set a minimum sentence without discretion.
Olmert issued a statement prior to sentencing saying that he was innocent and protesting an expected sentence that included prison time.
“This is a sad day on which a severe and unjust verdict is to be handed down to an innocent man,” Olmert said in his statement.
He has 45 days to appeal in Supreme Court – which he plans to do,, said Olmert spokesperson Amir Dan. He added that he hopes “the real picture will emerge and the verdict will change completely.”
To the eternal shame of the State of Israel, this is the first time in the history of the nation that a prime minister has been convicted of a felony and sent to prison. Likewise, former president Moshe Katsav is currently serving time in prison for having raped and sexually assaulted his female employees.
Olmert will appeal the conviction and sentence in the Supreme Court, spokesperson Amir Dan said. His attorney Eli Zohar is expected to file a request for a stay of sentence in the meantime.
Hana Levi Julian