The relatively light sentence handed down to former prime minister Ehud Olmert Monday elicited praise from some of his former Kadima party MKs, a wary congratulation from the party’s current leader, and withering criticism from some of his political opponents.
Olmert, the first Israeli prime minister to be convicted of a criminal offense, received a suspended 12-month jail sentence and a NIS 75,000 fine for his breach-of-trust conviction, paving the way for his possible comeback to the political arena. The state prosecution said it would consider appealing the District Court verdict to the Supreme Court.
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson applauded the court’s decision and urged Olmert to return to politics. Current party leader Shaul Mofaz made do with an extension of good wishes to the former premier. Roni Bar-On, a close political ally, lauded the judges’ decision and said that Olmert had been exonerated. “We can now say that he was removed from his post [of prime minister to fight the charges against him] without justice,” Bar-On said.
Another Kadima member, Nachman Shai, said the sentencing brings and end to the matter for once and for all. “The state attorney should pull himself together,” Shai said, referring to a statement from the state prosecutors to the effect that they may appeal the sentence. “There is no reason to appeal and Olmert should be left alone. Anyone who cares about the rule of law should respect the judgment.”
The state had sought a stiffer punishment of six months’ community service.
On the right, MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union), who heads the Knesset’s anti-corruption lobby, by contrast, described the sentence as “ridiculous.”
“The glue that is stuck to Olmert will never wear off,” he warned.
And on the left, Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On blasted the sentence and said it was a blow to “public confidence.”
She added that Olmert now “carries a public mark of Cain,” and called him a politician “who used his power for financial benefits for himself and his cronies. No court decision will be able to erase the shame… that clings to Olmert.”
The state prosecutor had recommended six months of community service for Olmert, along with fines and probation. Had the judges ruled that the crime involved moral turpitude and coupled it with a three-month jail term, he would have been forbidden under law from re-entering politics for seven years.
“This was a grave crime, not a procedural error,” presiding Jerusalem District Court judge Musya Arad said Monday of the breach of trust conviction as she read from the 27-page verdict, “a crime tainted by official corruption.”
She added that the gravity of the crime ordinarily justified a jail term. But this was “a special case,” she said, noting that the relative lightness of the sentence was influenced by the fact that Olmert had been forced to give up his prime ministerial post to fight other charges — in the Talansky affair — of which he was later cleared.
In July, a three-judge panel found the former prime minister guilty of one charge of breach of trust, pertaining to allocations, made while he was a minister, to companies represented by his lawyer Uri Messer. However, Olmert was cleared in the same trial of two sets of more substantive allegations, in the Rishon Tours affair, in which he was accused of holding a travel slush fund, and another count of accepting undeclared money from American businessman Morris Talansky.
Joshua Davidovich and Yoel Goldman contributed to this report.