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Most Israelis want Olmert to serve full sentence

Poll shows 82% of Israelis oppose shortening of term or pardon for former PM, who began a 19-month prison sentence this week

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert (L) arrives at Ma'asiyahu Prison in the central Israeli city of Ramle on February 15, 2016 as he begins serving a 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice. (AFP/Jack Guez)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert (L) arrives at Ma'asiyahu Prison in the central Israeli city of Ramle on February 15, 2016 as he begins serving a 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice. (AFP/Jack Guez)

A majority of Israelis oppose granting a pardon to jailed former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who on Monday began serving a 19-month combined prison sentence for corruption.

An Israel Radio poll asked Israelis whether Olmert, 70, a former mayor and cabinet minister, deserved a pardon or a shortening of his sentence — 82 percent said he did not.

Just 7% support shortening his sentence, and only 4% support a full pardon.

Olmert entered Ramle’s Ma’asiyahu Prison Monday morning, starting his sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice, becoming the country’s first former prime minister to be sentenced by an Israeli court to prison. He was given the prisoner number 9032478.

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)

Hours ahead of his incarceration, he insisted that while he accepted the sentence given to him by several courts and upheld in the Supreme Court, he was nevertheless 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 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 18-month prison sentence after he pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal to obstruction of justice in several of the corruption cases opened against him in recent years. It was the first admission of wrongdoing by the former Jerusalem mayor, who has consistently maintained his innocence throughout eight years of legal proceedings in various graft cases.

The former prime minister spent his last day of freedom Sunday with friends and family at his home in Motza, west of Jerusalem, and reportedly spoke to friends and 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.

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