Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in prison, a two-year suspended term, and a fine of NIS 1 million ($289,000) in the Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday, with the judge issuing a scathing rebuke of the former prime minister.
The graft crimes for which Olmert was convicted, Judge David Rozen said, were “among the worst in the criminal code.” Rozen added that “without trust there can be no upstanding public service.”
Olmert will have 45 days to appeal the sentence, and the Supreme Court will rule on whether he will be jailed during the appeal process. If he loses his appeal, Olmert will become the first former prime minister to serve jail time since the state’s founding. As things stand, he is slated to begin serving out his sentence on September 1.
“The crime of bribery can pollute civil service,” Rozen said. Bribery, he continued, “destroys governments,” and is “one of the worst crimes” in the penal code. The judge added that public officials who take bribes are tantamount to “traitors” because they betray the trust of the public.
Olmert “held the most important and central position and ended up convicted of contemptible crimes,” the judge said.
Before reading Olmert’s sentence, Rozen called the former prime minister an “intelligent, brilliant people person” and praised him for being an “avid Zionist” and for contributing to bereaved families and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial
Wearing a royal blue shirt and khaki chinos, Olmert looked tired and subdued as he entered the court room. A Channel 2 reporter said he looked away as the judge read his sentence.
The sentence was handed down over a month after Olmert was convicted on multiple bribery charges stemming from his involvement as mayor of Jerusalem in a massive graft scandal surrounding the development of the city’s Holyland hilltop residential complex.
According to the decision, businessman Shmuel Dachner, who would eventually turn state’s witness (and who passed away mid-trial, hours after a cross-examination session), gave Olmert’s debt-ridden brother Yossi Olmert post-dated checks for NIS 500,000 ($143,000) at Olmert’s behest. Dachner was representing real estate developer Hillel Charney, who was convicted of money laundering and bribing Olmert, his then-assistant — and future Jerusalem mayor — Uri Lupolianski, and others.
On Tuesday, the judge said that Olmert’s crimes involved moral turpitude, and that he was thus revoking 10 percent of the pension Olmert receives as former Jerusalem mayor.
Less than an hour before the sentencing, Olmert professed his innocence and protested the harsh expected sentence. “This is a sad day, on which a severe and unjust verdict is to be handed down to an innocent man,” the former prime minister said in a statement.
Olmert’s spokesman, Amir Dan, said that the former prime minister planned to appeal the sentence in the Supreme Court in the hopes that “the real picture will emerge and the verdict will change completely.”
Olmert was fifth in line to be sentenced, with three earlier defendants, convicted of giving bribes, receiving lower sentences than demanded by the prosecution.
In all, six other businessmen, developers and Jerusalem municipal officials were also sentenced in the case. Holyland project developer Hillel Cherney was given 3.5 years in prison and a NIS 1 million fine. Avigdor Kelner, a businessman who was convicted of making hefty payments to promote the Holyland project, was sentenced to three years in prison and a similar fine. Real estate developer Meir Rabin, who was suspected of mediating the bribery in the affair, was sentenced to five years in prison. Former Jerusalem municipal engineer Uri Shitrit, meanwhile, was sentenced to seven years in prison for taking bribes. Former Jerusalem deputy mayor Eliezer Simhayoff was sentenced to 3.5 years in jail, and ex-Bank Hapoalim chairman Danny Dankner was handed a three-year prison sentence.
Rozen accused the defendants of “greed, not to mention avarice,” and said that their punishment was severe owing to their influential positions. “Those who belong to the social and economic elite of the country should not be held to the same standard as the common people,” he said.
Lupoliansky, former council member Avraham Finer, and Olmert’s top aide, Shula Zaken, are to be sentenced next month.
A special team was being set up to handle the unprecedented logistical and other challenges of sending a former prime minister to prison.
The state prosecution, represented by prosecuting attorney Yehonatan Tadmor, had asked in April for severe punishments for those convicted in the case.
“The punishment in the Holyland case must reverberate far and wide, fit the severity of the deeds, warn and deter,” Tadmor told the court at the time.
Olmert’s attorney requested on behalf of his client that Judge Rozen refrain from sentencing Olmert to jail time, arguing that similar bribery cases resulted in a maximum of 18 months of incarceration.
Tadmor countered that the corruption unveiled in the case “is unique in its severity and in its effect on the State of Israel, in the scale of the corruption, the financial amounts involved in the bribes, the identities of the bribers and the bribe-takers, and in the massive [real estate] projects that were involved.”
Channel 10 reported Monday that the prosecution will oppose Olmert staying out of prison throughout the appeals process
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.