Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced on Monday afternoon to a suspended year-long jail term and a NIS 75,000 fine (some $19,000), following his landmark conviction on a breach of trust charge in July.
“I leave the court with my head held high,” Olmert said in a brief statement after the verdict. “I will respect the verdict and learn the lessons.”
The state prosecution had sought a stiffer sentence, of six months’ community service, and has 45 days to consider whether to lodge an appeal.
“This was a grave crime, not a procedural error,” presiding Jerusalem District Court judge Musya Arad said 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..
Commentators said the sentence leaves Olmert free to run for election to the next Knesset. However, he would not be eligible to serve as a minister because he is still on trial in another corruption scandal, the Holyland affair, they said.
Deputy State Attorney Eli Abarbanel said that the case was not yet over, and that despite the considerations cited by the court, the state prosecution believed a stiffer sentence was necessary. “We will study the verdict,” he said, and decide whether to lodge an appeal.
The conviction, for crimes committed while Olmert served as industry, trade and labor minister over a decade ago, was for the least of three charges the politician was put on trial for. He was convicted of having a conflict of interest due to connections to his friend and one-time business associate, Uri Messer, in what was known as the Investment Center scandal.
It made Olmert the first former prime minister to be convicted of a criminal offense.
Olmert’s long-time office manager Shula Zaken was sentenced to a nine-month suspended term and given a 40,000 shekel fine for fraud and breach of trust in the so-called Rishon Tours double billing affair, one of the more serious cases in which Olmert was cleared. “The court has spoken,” Zaken said afterwards. “As you know I am a religious person. I believe in the verdict of the Almighty.”
Arad read the verdict to a packed courtroom. “Olmert and Messer had a special relationship; sometimes Messer would pass Olmert money from an account he held,” she read from the verdict. “There was here an injury to the public’s trust.”
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 stricken under law from re-entering politics for seven years.
Olmert arrived in court before 1 p.m. wearing a blue shirt and looking generally unworried, as he did during the July reading of the verdicts in the cases.
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 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.
At a sentencing hearing earlier this month, Abarbanel said that Olmert’s actions were “the gravest offense and a severe breach of trust.” However, the prosecution did not ask for jail time for the ex-premier and did not request that the court rule that his crimes involved moral turpitude.
Abarbanel said then that Olmert had not caused direct damage to the state in the affair or profited directly from the charges. He said that a compound sentence of six months community service, plus up to a year of probationary jail time, and a fine was an appropriate sentence.
At the same hearing, Olmert asked the judges to let him leave the court “with my head held high.” He said he had “learned the lessons” from his conviction, and that wherever his career led him from now on, “things will not be the same.”
Olmert still faces charges in a separate case of taking bribes in the Holyland real estate scandal when he served as mayor of Jerusalem.
That case is widely regarded as one of the largest corruption scandals in Israel’s history. It involves, in addition to Olmert, another former mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, plus former Israel Lands Administration director Yaakov Efrati and several others. That trial is ongoing.