Ahead of departure for prison, Olmert denies he took bribes
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'You may well imagine how this transformation is painful and strange to me'

Ahead of departure for prison, Olmert denies he took bribes

In a taped video message, disgraced former prime minister says he accepts sentence with a ‘very heavy heart’

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert addresses Israelis in a video released hours before he was slated to begin serving out his prison sentence, on Monday, February 2, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert addresses Israelis in a video released hours before he was slated to begin serving out his prison sentence, on Monday, February 2, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is set to begin serving a 19-month sentence at Ramle’s Ma’asiyahu Prison Monday morning, insisted hours ahead of his incarceration that, while he accepted the sentence, he was innocent of taking bribes.

“As prime minister I was entrusted with Israel’s security, and now I am the one who is about to sit behind bars. You may well imagine how this transformation is painful and strange to me,” Olmert said in a short (Hebrew) video released to the press Monday morning, shortly before he departed for the prison.

“At this time I want to say that I deny outright the charges relating to bribery attributed to me,” he continued. “It is also important for me to note that all the charges do not touch on the time of my tenure as prime minister. It is with a very heavy heart that I accept the sentence — no one is above the law,” he concluded.

Olmert will be the country’s first former prime minister to go to prison. He was sentenced in 2014 to six years in prison on two separate charges of taking bribes in the early 2000s, as mayor of Jerusalem, in connection with the construction of Jerusalem’s massive Holyland residential complex. In December 2015, the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to 18 months in prison and exonerated him on one of the charges.

Last week, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court tacked another month behind bars on to Olmert’s prison sentence, after he pleaded guilty — as part of a plea deal — to obstruction of justice in various cases against him. It was the first admission of wrongdoing by the former prime minister and Jerusalem mayor, who has consistently maintained his innocence throughout eight years of legal proceedings in various graft cases.

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)

The former prime minister spent his last day of freedom Sunday with friends and family at home in Motza, just outside Jerusalem, and reportedly spoke to citizens, Israeli and world leaders on the phone over the course of the day, Channel 10 reported.

“He devoted his time to saying goodbye to friends and asked them to wait for him to return,” a friend of Olmert told Ynet ahead of the former prime minister’s incarceration.

After processing at the prison, he’ll undergo psychological evaluation and then be jailed at in “Ward 10,” a separate prison area that does not require contact with other inmates, in a cell along with two others, likely others found guilty in the Holyland case. Olmert will first be up for 24 hours of leave from prison after completing a third of his 19-month sentence.

During the prime minister’s first days behind bars he’ll be under close watch, a former head of the prison said.

“We need to ensure his security and health, to make sure and prevent any concern of a suicide attempt,” a prison service official told Ynet. “Nobody wants something to happen to a former prime minister on their watch, while we’re responsible for him and his needs.”

As an ex-premier, privy to the state’s top secrets, the Prisons Service determined that Olmert cannot be allowed to come into contact with convicted members of organized crime groups and those who have committed national security crimes. Last year, the IPS created “Ward 10” and vetted Olmert’s potential cellmates to ensure they do not pose a security threat to him.

Also serving time in Ward 10 is former president Moshe Katsav, who is five years in to a seven-year term for rape, sexual assault and harassment of a number of female employees while tourism minister and president.

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