Olmert convicted after pleading guilty to witness tampering
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Olmert convicted after pleading guilty to witness tampering

In first admission of wrongdoing, former prime minister convicted of obstructing justice by trying to silence secretary

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert at the courtroom of the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem, February 2, 2016. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert at the courtroom of the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem, February 2, 2016. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was convicted Tuesday of obstructing justice in two corruption cases against him after pleading guilty under a plea bargain reached with the State Prosecutor’s Office.

Under the terms of the deal, both the defense and prosecution requested of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that Olmert receive a NIS 50,000 fine ($13,000) and six months in jail, to be served concurrently with the 18-month term he received over his role in the Holyland real estate scandal.

The court has until February 10 to deliver a verdict on the sentence.

The deal represented the first admission of wrongdoing by the former minister and Jerusalem mayor, who has consistently maintained his innocence in over eight years of legal proceedings in various graft cases.

Olmert tried to persuade his former secretary Shula Zaken not to testify against him in the Holyland case and a second affair involving money from US businessman Morris Talansky, and offered her money in exchange for her silence.

In secret recordings made by Zaken, Olmert can be heard saying, “If I am not acquitted, no one will be acquitted.”

Shula Zaken at the Jerusalem District court on November 3, 2014. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)
Shula Zaken at the Jerusalem District court on November 3, 2014. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)

The recordings also reveal an offer to have her legal fees paid for in exchange for keeping quiet.

The deal, which was reached on January 18, represents a last-ditch effort by Olmert’s legal team to avoid further jail time after sentences were handed down in the Holyland and Talansky affairs.

Olmert had been sentenced in May 2014 to six years in prison on two separate charges of taking bribes in the early 2000s in connection with the construction of Jerusalem’s massive Holyland residential complex. But in December, the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to 18 months in prison and acquitted him of one of the charges.

The prison term — the first time a former Israeli prime minister goes to jail — is due to begin on February 15.

In a separate case, the Jerusalem District Court in May sentenced Olmert to eight months in prison for fraud and corruption following a retrial over allegations that he had received envelopes of cash from Talansky while trade and industry minister.

Olmert was found guilty last year of accepting bribes from Talanksy in exchange for political favors. Zaken, who served time in jail for her role in the Holyland affair, testified against Olmert in the case.

Olmert has been cleared on a litany of other graft charges.

Prosecutors asked the Supreme Court to add the eight-month Talansky sentence to the 18-month Holyland verdict, for a total of 26 months in prison, while Olmert’s attorneys are seeking a concurrent sentence, allowing him to serve both sentences in the same 18-month span (with a possible one-third of the sentence commuted for good behavior).

Times of Israel contributed to this report.

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