Former prime minister Olmert to go to prison on Monday

Convicted of taking bribes and obstructing justice, he’ll be the first Israeli premier to serve time behind bars

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

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

Ehud Olmert will be the country’s first former prime minister to go to prison when he begins serving out two sentences totaling 19-months at Ramle’s Ma’asiyahu Prison on Monday.

Olmert 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. But in December, 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 the former prime minister pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in various cases against him.

The plea deal represented 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.

Olmert admitted to trying to persuade his former secretary Shula Zaken not to testify against him in the Holyland case and a second affair involving cash infusions from US businessman Morris Talansky, and of trying to buy her silence. Zaken has already served out her prison sentence for her part in the Holyland affair.

The Ma'asiyahu Prison complex in Ramle, near Tel Aviv. (Courtesy/Israel Prisons Service)
The Ma’asiyahu Prison complex in Ramle, near Tel Aviv. (Courtesy/Israel Prisons Service)

In secret recordings made by Zaken, Olmert can be heard saying: “If I am not acquitted, no one will be acquitted.” The recordings also reveal he offered to pick up her legal bill.

The plea deal represented a last-ditch effort by Olmert’s legal team to avoid further jail time after sentences were handed down in the Holyland and Talansky affairs. His eight-month sentence in the Talansky affair is still up for debate in the Supreme Court.

According to reports, Olmert’s attorney is working to reach an agreement with the state prosecution that would see the Talansky sentence withdrawn, or at least that it run concurrently with the 18-month prison term in the Holyland affair.

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,” a separate prison area that does not require contact with other inmates, and has 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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