Olmert handed another month in jail for obstructing justice
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Olmert handed another month in jail for obstructing justice

Court strikes down plea deal with former PM, who admitted he tried to silence his secretary; will go to prison next week

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

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 10, 2016 (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 10, 2016 (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday tacked another month behind bars on to Ehud Olmert’s prison sentence, after the former prime minister pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in two of the corruption cases in which he has previously been convicted.

The sentence — six months, five of which he is to serve concurrently with the terms meted out to him in the corruption cases against him — struck down a plea bargain that would have seen his entire term in the obstruction overlap with the earlier sentences. He also received three years’ probation and fined him NIS 50,000 ($13,000).

All told, the decision by Judge Avital Chen means that the length of Olmert’s prison term is to be raised from 18 months — his sentence over his role in the Holyland real estate scandal — to 19 months. Olmert will be the first former Israeli prime minister to go to prison when he begins serving out his sentence next Monday.

Chen denounced the terms of the plea agreement, saying it would have been “highly unreasonable” to fold all of Olmert’s sentence for obstruction into his other prison term.

“Its difficult for me to accept this arrangement in which a person who has confessed to committing two rather serious crimes will receive a cumulative prison sentence,” he said.

Olmert’s lawyer, Eli Zohar, said his client was disappointed by the ruling, and would discuss a possible appeal after perusing the ruling.

“We took this deal under the recommendation of state prosecutors, and in light of that, it’s regrettable that the court thought the addition of 30 days justified nullifying the plea bargain,” he said.

“We see it as significant that he admitted to the crimes he was charged with, and for the first time, publicly took responsibility for his actions. The court is of the opinion that the punishment was appropriate and chose to deviate slightly from the sentence,” state prosecutor Keren Ben-Menahem said.

The plea deal that was struck down by the court Wednesday 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.

Shula Zaken seen at the Jerusalem District court on November 6, 2014. (photo credit: Ido Erez/POOL)
Shula Zaken seen at the Jerusalem District court on November 6, 2014. (photo credit: Ido Erez/POOL)

He 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.

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 up for debate in the Supreme.

Zaken has already served time in prison for her part in the Holyland affair.

Olmert was sentenced in May 2014 to six years in prison on two separate charges of taking bribes in the early 2000s 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 acquitted him of one of the charges.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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