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Politicians welcome Olmert parole, urge he be left in peace

Former PM to volunteer with charitable groups after he goes free Sunday, assuming no appeal by prosecution

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert at the courtroom of the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem, February 2, 2016. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert at the courtroom of the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem, February 2, 2016. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)

Politicians and former colleagues from both sides of the political divide on Thursday welcomed a parole board decision to grant an early release from prison to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is serving time for corruption.

The board said Olmert had earned early release with his good behavior. Olmert, 71, who was premier between 2006 and 2009, has served 16 months out a 27-month sentence.

Olmert’s attorney Shani Illouz said he was very pleased to be reuniting with his family soon.

“The board accepted each and every one of our arguments,” she said. “Ehud Olmert will be released on Sunday.”

Illouz explained that under the terms of the parole, Olmert will volunteer at two charity groups, Leket Israel, which collects food for the needy, and Ezra Lemarpeh, which assists the sick, the Hebrew news Ynet website reported.

Olmert, she noted, asked to volunteer at the organizations even though he is not required to do so because of his age. The former prime minister will also make weekly visits to the prisoner rehabilitation authority and he must sign in with police twice a month, as is initially required of all paroled prisoners.

Shani Ilouz, attorney of former prime minister Ehud Olmertm seen at the entrance to the Ma'asiyahu Prison in Ramle, June 29, 2017. (Flash90)
Shani Ilouz, attorney of former prime minister Ehud Olmertm seen at the entrance to the Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle, June 29, 2017. (Flash90)

“Other than that, there are no additional limitations,” Illouz said.

Barring any unforeseen developments, Olmert will walk free on Sunday, said Prison Service spokesman Assaf Librati.

Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin welcomed the decision, saying Olmert has “paid his debt to society and anyone else in his position would have been released long ago.”

Elkin, in the past a member of the Kadima party led by Olmert, denounced the State Prosecutor’s Office for considering lodging an appeal against the release, saying “the prosecutor’s desire to appeal and delay the immediate release without even studying the decision in depth, seems like a personal persecution of a man who made a large contribution to Israel.”

It was not immediately clear if the prosecution would appeal the decision; it had until Thursday afternoon to notify the prison board.

Environmental Protection Minister Ze'ev Elkin, speaks during a press conference at the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem on March 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin speaks during a press conference at the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem on March 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Opposition Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, who served as foreign minister under Olmert before he stepped down in 2009, praised the early release decision as “fitting.”

Her fellow faction member MK Yoel Hasson said it was “a correct decision, legally and personally and I think also for the public.”

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich tweeted that “I don’t oppose and I don’t welcome Olmert’s release. Yes, the obsessive attention on the bitter fate of a criminal from the [social] elite annoys me when there are many common criminals in prison.”

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.

Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz, who served as defense minister in an Olmert-led coalition, also welcomed the development and said he hoped that the prosecutor wuold respect the decision and leave Olmert in peace.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert is seen departing Maasiyahu Prison in Ramle on July 11, 2016, for his first leave from prison since he began his 19-month sentence in February. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert is seen departing Maasiyahu Prison in Ramle on July 11, 2016, for his first leave from prison since he began his 19-month sentence in February. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

 

Olmert’s chances for early release were complicated over the last few weeks as he was accused of divulging of sensitive information in memoirs he is writing and sneaking a transcript out of prison.

The prosecution had said the book Olmert is writing contains “sensitive security issues” and that his lawyer was caught leaving the prison with a chapter on “secret operations” not approved by the censor for publication.

Illouz said the prison board found that Olmert had not been warned by prison authorities before writing the book that he could not send and receive sensitive material from his cell and therefore could not be faulted for the security lapse.

“It [the board] ruled that if there was neglect, it shouldn’t be pushed onto the prisoner but that the prisoner service should review itself,” she said.

The prosecution earlier asked police to open a criminal investigation into the matter and argued that it would be inappropriate to consider early release until the probe was completed and it was clear whether Olmert had engaged in illegal activity.

Olmert has denied doing anything wrong.

Police searched the offices of the Yedioth Books publishing house and the home of Yehuda Yaari, who is editing Olmert’s memoirs on behalf of the publisher, over the incident.

Initially sentenced to 19 months in the Holyland case, 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.

AP contributed to this report.

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