In a highly unusual statement Sunday evening, the Justice Ministry denied nefarious intent in a raid on the publishing house of Ehud Olmert’s memoirs, and said it would disregard any information seized that does not relate to the jailed former prime minister’s alleged divulging of sensitive information for the book.
When police officers raided the Rishon Lezion publisher on Thursday and confiscated pages from Olmert’s memoirs, they also grabbed material from two other manuscripts — one by former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and a biography about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by veteran journalist Ben Caspit. Both books are expected to be critical of the prime minister and Ya’alon’s tome is said to include his account of alleged corruption surrounding the purchasing of submarines for the Israel Navy.
“In contrast to reports, no material will be reviewed that is not related to Olmert’s book,” the Justice Ministry statement said. “No one will examine it or make any use of it.”
Detailing the specific warrant granted to carry out the search in order to determine if Olmert, who is serving prison time for corruption, had illegally divulged state secrets while working on his memoirs in jail, the Justice Ministry said that “all remaining materials not relating to the probe will be returned and no copy will be kept by police.”
The publisher is owned by Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s highest-circulation paid daily newspaper, which reported Sunday on the unrelated manuscripts that were taken. Police also raided the home of Yehuda Yaari, who is editing Olmert’s memoirs on behalf of the publisher.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Sunday that the raid represented “an unprecedented attack on the spirit of Israeli democracy,” and said he would demand a special Knesset hearing on the incident.
Israel’s independent Press Council asked the State Prosecution and the Attorney-General’s Office to explain why the raid was necessary, and why the various materials were seized.
On May 18, one of Olmert’s attorneys was allegedly caught by prison officers with classified material belonging to the former prime minister after a visit to his jail cell. During a search of the cell, security officers found additional classified documents.
Consequently, law enforcement officials decided to open a preliminary probe into Olmert. The findings were to be presented to police and the Shin Bet security service and a decision would then be taken on whether to open a criminal investigation into Olmert, Channel 2 reported at the time. The lawyer was allegedly carrying two chapters from Olmert’s memoirs, which he is writing while incarcerated. According to the report the chapters relate to the bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007.
Olmert is said to be the only person involved who did not sign a confidentiality agreement about the bombing, which foreign reports have attributed to Israel, because he was prime minister at the time.
Israel never officially confirmed that it was responsible for the raid on the reactor in the Deir Ezzor region of Syria, and Israeli media was banned from reporting on an Israeli connection. However, shortly before the raid Olmert seemed to imply Israel was behind it, saying, “The security services and Israeli defense forces are demonstrating unusual courage. We naturally cannot always show the public our cards.”
Following the discovery of the documents, Olmert reportedly lost some prison privileges including an upcoming furlough and access to the public phone.
During his most recent furlough, Olmert met with the chief censor of the IDF. Sources close to the former prime minister said that the two chapters were approved by the state censor two months ago, and that there was therefore no basis for a criminal investigation.
Earlier Sunday, the Prisons Service parole board said that it would announce next week whether to grant Olmert an early release. He is currently serving a 27-month sentence for corruption, and is seeking to have a third of his sentence cut off.
Representatives of the State Prosecutor’s Office argued in the parole hearing that it would be inappropriate to consider an early release until the probe was completed and it was clear whether Olmert had engaged in illegal activity. Olmert’s lawyers pointed to their client’s “impeccable” record during his prison service to date and said the latest allegations do not constitute grounds to disregard his good behavior.
Olmert has insisted he was not trying to skirt any laws.
“I have never been told that it is forbidden to transfer written material,” he said, according to Channel 2 news. “The lawyers are involved with my writing, and go over all the material.”
Olmert began serving his sentence at Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle in February 2016. The law allows authorities to reduce sentences by a third for good behavior.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.
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