President refuses pardon for convicted ex-prime minister Olmert
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President refuses pardon for convicted ex-prime minister Olmert

Rivlin says he can't reconsider former premier's jail term in light of his public standing as court already took that into account

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 10, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 10, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)

President Reuven Rivlin rejected a pardon request from former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is serving a 26-month jail sentence on various corruption charges, saying Monday there were no grounds to let the former premier go early.

The decision came two weeks after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked requested the ex-premier be released, even as officials in her ministry recommended against it.

“The president’s pardon powers are not an appeal process against a court decision, and therefore no grounds were found to grant a full pardon and release from prison,” a statement from Rivlin’s office read.

In January, Olmert requested a pardon, with his lawyers writing in a letter to the president that Olmert had “suffered enough” and that “the time has come to end the suffering of Ehud Olmert as an act of mercy.”

He began serving his sentence at Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle in February 2016 for graft convictions related to his time as a government minister and mayor of Jerusalem. He’ll be eligible for the standard early parole process in the fall of 2017.

In a statement, Rivlin’s office said the court decision had already taken into account Olmert’s public service and contributions to the state, so he could not grant a pardon based on that alone.

“Olmert’s unique circumstances … including the depth of his fall, and his many contributions as someone who served for many years in the highest offices of the nation and contributed greatly to the State of Israel and its security — all these were considered by the court when it delivered his sentence,” the statement read.

President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked seen during a swearing in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the president's residence in Jerusalem, on August 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked seen during a swearing in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on August 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin tempered his rejection by telling Olmert that if he were to be granted parole, he would “consider favorably” the possibility of commuting the sentence to the amount of time already served, “after [Olmert] will have paid his debt to society.”

The distinction between a full pardon and a commuted sentence after a parole has ramifications for Olmert beyond the few months’ reduction in his sentence. Had Rivlin granted a pardon, it would have erased the “moral turpitude” designation that accompanied Olmert’s conviction and sentencing, a designation that prevents him from returning to political office for seven years from his release.

In recent weeks, Olmert has refused to begin the rehabilitation program at Ma’asiyahu Prison that is a condition for applying for parole, likely preferring to wait for a possible presidential pardon, Channel 10 reported on Sunday.

The former prime minister will have his first hearing before a parole board in June.

Olmert was one of eight former officials and businessmen convicted in March 2014 in the Holyland real estate corruption case, which officials have characterized as among the largest graft cases in Israel’s history.

He was sentenced in 2014 to six years in prison over two separate charges of taking bribes in the early 2000s, when he served as mayor of Jerusalem. That sentence was reduced to 18 months after the Supreme Court overturned one of his convictions on appeal.

In September, Olmert was sentenced to an additional eight months behind bars for the so-called Talansky affair. In that case, a court upheld a 2015 conviction over his accepting envelopes full of cash from American businessman and fundraiser Morris Talansky in exchange for political favors during his decade-long term as mayor from 1993 to 2003.

In July, after rejecting his two previous requests for leave, the Israel Prisons Service determined that Olmert, who had completed the first third of his sentence, was eligible for a brief furlough.

The Prisons Service refitted a wing in the Ramle prison to house the former prime minister, the first former premier to serve jail time, keeping him in a separate complex shared only by carefully screened fellow convicts.

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