Ex-premier Olmert sentenced to eight months in jail for taking cash

Former PM also fined NIS 100,000 in Talansky affair; prison term to be added to his six-year sentence in Holyland case

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, center, arriving at Jerusalem District Court on May 25, 2015. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, center, arriving at Jerusalem District Court on May 25, 2015. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)

Judges on Monday sentenced former prime minister Ehud Olmert to serve an additional eight months of prison over a graft conviction, tacking the sentence onto a separate six-year jail term the ex-politician is set to serve for another conviction.

The new sentence, which comes with a NIS 100,000 ($26,000) fine, was handed down months after his conviction for accepting envelopes full of cash from American businessman and fundraiser Morris Talansky in exchange for political favors.

The state prosecutor had urged the Jerusalem District Court to sentence the ex-premier to eight to 18 months.

Olmert earlier in May asked the court to be lenient in his sentencing for the graft conviction, telling judges he had suffered during his court trials over the last seven years.

In their decision, the judges wrote that a “black flag” was fluttering over Olmert’s behavior, necessitating the jail sentence.

“A black flag of immorality and corruption waves above the defendant’s actions,” state prosecutor Uri Korb told the press after the decision. “The court held that there can be no penalty other than imprisonment.”

Last year, Olmert was given six years in prison for his role in a massive real estate bribery scheme — called the largest corruption case in the country’s history — surrounding the Holyland residential building project in Jerusalem.

He has been able to stay out of prison, however, while appeal proceedings play out. His lawyers said they plan on appealing the Talanksy verdict as well.

The judges in the Talansky case ruled that Olmert would have to begin his term in 45 days, and that it could not be transferred to community service or suspended.

“The penalty imposed on Olmert only adds to the great suffering he has already incurred,” his defense team said in a statement. “This is a harsh sentence, and we intend to appeal against it.”

“We respect the court verdict but believe that there were problems and defects,” Olmert’s lawyer Eyal Rozovsky said after the ruling was handed down. “We believe that it was not proven that Olmert made private use of funds.”

Korb had requested that the sentence not be served simultaneously with the Holyland sentence.

He also asked the court to fine Olmert an amount exceeding the bribes he is believed to have received from Talansky — which amounted to some $600,000.

Morris Talansky testifies against former prime minister Ehud Olmert in the Holyland trial before Tel Aviv District Court. January 20 2013. (photo credit /FLASH90)
Morris Talansky testifies against former prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2013. (FLASH90)

The March guilty verdict in the Talansky case came some six months after the Supreme Court ordered a retrial sought by prosecutors after they obtained new testimony from Olmert’s former assistant Shula Zaken, including recordings of conversations between Olmert and Zaken. Zaken provided the new information last spring as part of a plea bargain.

Overturning its earlier decision from 2012, the three-member court unanimously found the former premier guilty of fraud, breach of trust and aggravated fraud.

The legal battle over the Talansky money was focused on whether the funds were personal gifts or a political exchange.

Talansky, an Orthodox Jew from New York’s Long Island, had testified the money was spent on expensive cigars, first-class travel and luxury hotels, while insisting he received nothing in return.

Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman, one of the three judges on the panel, insisted that even without Zaken’s testimony, there had been sufficient evidence to convict Olmert for these crimes in the original trial.

Ehud Olmert and Shula Zaken in September 2011 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Ehud Olmert and Shula Zaken, September 2011 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Yet the audio recordings by Zaken buttressed the allegation that Olmert had accepted the “cash envelopes” from Talansky while mayor of Jerusalem, and failed to report the bank account in which the funds were held to the proper authorities. The court found that Olmert made personal use of the money, including paying tens of thousands of dollars to Zaken.

Olmert told the court earlier he was confident that the sentence would reflect “the whole picture.” He said he accepted the court’s guilty verdict and hoped “with all my heart that the weight of my mistakes will be weighed against my contribution to the country.”

Olmert spoke shortly after the testimony of character witnesses brought in his defense, including former security officials such as ex-Mossad chief — and a business partner of Olmert’s — Meir Dagan and Olmert’s adopted daughter. Dagan wrote to the judges asserting Olmert’s many “courageous decisions” and actions for the good of Israel. Former British prime minister Tony Blair also wrote a letter on Olmert’s behalf, highlighting his efforts at peace-making and citing the “friendship and trust” between them.

Olmert said the years in which the case had been going through various levels of the legal system were a punishment in themselves.

“I feel that there is no punishment heavier than the one I’ve lived with for seven long years,” he said, apparently including other corruption investigations in the period. “Almost one-seventh of my life [Olmert is 69] I’ve spent as a punching bag… I’ve had to find the will to survive and to defend my wife, children and grandchildren. What do you tell a grandchild who tells you that in kindergarten they’re saying bad things about grandpa?

“Any punishment you choose to impose will only be added to the unending string of [painful] moments I have been grappling with in recent years. Who notices the magnitude of this punishment, this suffering?”

Prosecutor Korb acknowledged to the court that “people have many sides to them,” and that the defendant had “contributed much to society over the years,” but insisted that this was often true in white-collar crime cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed