Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that nobody ever told him he couldn’t send written material from jail, after the Israel Prisons Service accused him of smuggling classified information via his lawyers.
On Wednesday, one of Olmert’s attorneys was detained after being caught with classified materials following a visit to the jailed ex-premier in prison. Olmert’s lawyers were barred from meeting their client on Sunday morning and some of his privileges were revoked as a result of the incident.
Responding to the affair for the first time Sunday, Olmert, serving time on graft convictions, begged ignorance and said he was not trying to skirt any laws.
“I have never been told that it is forbidden to transfer written materials,” he said, according to Channel 2 news. “The lawyers are involved with my writing, go over all the material.”
The former premier also said that the prison service does not have the authority to read through his private papers.
“No one, including the IPS, has the authority or permission to review, intervene or determine anything in relation to what a prisoner writes about himself, which are naturally personal,” said Olmert, who served as prime minister from 2005 to 2009.
Olmert also gave his version of events which led to the removal of some of his prison rights.
“Last Wednesday, I met with a lawyer, “he explained.” At the entrance I held a large envelope containing several smaller envelopes, in some there was legal material, and in others materials related to my personal writing.
“I voluntarily showed this material entirely for the guard’s to inspect,” and this guard called his supervisor, Olmert said. “The material in the envelopes was checked. They forbade me from taking out any material which is not [related to my] legal [case], and I was told that all the other material that does not deal with the shortening of the sentence cannot be removed.”
In a statement on Sunday morning, the IPS said that Olmert had been warned against bringing classified materials into the jail.
The prison service confirmed to Ynet news that the lawyers had been turned away, but that they would be able to meet with the former premier if they coordinate their visits with the prison authority.
“Upon his entry into prison, it became clear that Olmert had brought materials with him that were highly sensitive and we made it clear to him that although he could write his notes during the incarceration, the lists and documents, because of their sensitive nature… must be kept in a sealed envelope in a secure location in the prison and not in his cell,” they said.
The prison service said that Olmert had also been warned not to have any material taken out of the jail, but on Wednesday a guard noticed that a lawyer received an envelope and “suspected that the envelope also included classified materials.”
The prison service also said that it suspects that this is not the first time Olmert has smuggled files out of the prison.
Olmert began serving his 27-month sentence at Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle in February 2016, and is now seeking early release. The law allows authorities to reduce sentences by a third for good behavior.
Olmert will have his first hearing before a parole board in June.
On Wednesday, Channel 2 had reported that the Israel Prisons Service did not plan to raise any objections to Olmert’s early release. This would increase the prospects of the parole board reducing the former prime minister’s sentence at an upcoming hearing.
Lawyers for Olmert responded furiously to the accusations Sunday, calling them an attempt to torpedo his chances for parole.
This is “a false and scandalous attempt to turn Mr. Olmert into someone who supposedly dealt with collecting classified and sensitive documents,” read a statement from the lawyers. “This attempt is disgusting and contemptible.”
They rejected implications that the former premier had brought classified materials into or out of prison.
Mr. Olmert has never brought to prison any classified document originating in Military Intelligence, the Mossad, the Shin Bet, the Atomic Energy Commission or an official in the State of Israel who is authorized to classify documents as “secret” or “highly secret,” the statement said. “Mr. Olmert never had such a document with him in prison.”
“We reject the attempt by a junior intelligence officer of the IPS, without any status, to smear Mr. Olmert and imply that he presents a security danger, in order to undermine his request to shorten his sentence by a third,” the lawyers claimed.
Olmert was one of eight former officials and businessmen convicted in March 2014 in the Holyland real estate corruption case, which has been characterized as among the largest graft cases in Israel’s history.
In March, President Reuven Rivlin rejected a pardon request for Olmert, saying there were no grounds to let the former premier go early.
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 Jerusalem. That sentence was reduced to 19 months after the Supreme Court overturned one of his convictions on appeal.
In September 2016, Olmert was 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 from 1993 to 2003.
The Prisons Service refitted a wing in the Ramle prison to house the former prime minister, the first former premier to serve jail time, keeping him in a separate complex shared only by carefully screened fellow convicts.
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