Justice minister intervened to help secure Olmert’s early release — report

Justice minister intervened to help secure Olmert’s early release — report

Ayelet Shaked allegedly exceeded her authority when she asked Shai Nitzan to shelve a planned prosecution appeal against parole for jailed former prime minister

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan in a text message last June that he was not to challenge the decision to reduce the prison sentence of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, according to a Sunday report.

According to Israeli law, the justice minister does not have the authority to intervene in cases of early parole.

The prosecution was opposed to Olmert’s early release due to the severity of his crimes as well as an ongoing investigation into whether he divulged classified information in the memoirs he was writing at the time. However, according to a report in Haaretz, Nitzan changed his position after Shaked’s intervention.

The parole board ruled in June 2017 that Olmert should be released from prison early for good behavior, after serving 16 months of a 27-month sentence.

The State Attorney’s Office later released a statement saying that there was no basis for petitioning the District Court against the decision of the board.

In response to a request for comment from Haaretz, the Justice Ministry said: “Ehud Olmert served his sentence. The approach of the minister to any offender who had good behavior in prison and isn’t a danger to the public is to reduce the sentence by one-third.”

Nitzan refused to confirm or deny the report and called it “gossip.”

“The prosecution examines each case individually in light of its particular circumstances and a decision is made in light of pertinent and professional considerations,” he told Haaretz.

State Prosecuter Shai Nitzan attends an Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Olmert was released from prison in July 2017. His request for a presidential pardon while he was still behind bars was turned down, despite support at the time from Shaked, who wrote a letter to President Reuven Rivlin citing the former prime minister’s contribution to Israel’s security while serving as prime minister from 2006 to 2009.

However, the president did agree to shorten Olmert’s 27-month sentence to the time he had actually served, thereby releasing him from parole restrictions imposed after his early release from prison.

In March, Olmert gave a television interview in which he lamented his  “crazy persecution” at the hands of the legal authorities. Nitzan responded, saying the offices of the attorney general, the state prosecutor, and the police were driven by a “professional ethos of law enforcement and protecting the integrity of the state” and blasting Olmert’s comments as “unfounded” and “nonsense.”

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert attends a celebration at Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan in northern Israel on March 31, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

On Thursday, Olmert reportedly withdrew his appeal to Rivlin to erase his criminal record, saying he realized it would not be granted. Olmert had appealed to the president in April ahead of the celebrations to mark Israel’s 70 years of independence, in a move which would have allowed him to return to political life.

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 the capital. That sentence was reduced to 18 months after the Supreme Court overturned one of his convictions on appeal.

Olmert was also 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 of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003.

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