Prison parole board grants early release to ex-PM Olmert
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Prison parole board grants early release to ex-PM Olmert

Panel shaves 11 months off 27-month sentence, decides probe into divulging of secret info in memoir not relevant; unclear if prosecution will appeal

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)

A parole board ruled Thursday that former prime minister Ehud Olmert should be released from prison early, after serving 16 months of a 27-month sentence.

The board said Olmert, jailed on corruption convictions, had earned early release with his good behavior.

It was not immediately clear if the prosecution, which had opposed the early release, will appeal the decision.

Should the decision stand, he will likely be released from Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle on Sunday, over a year after entering the prison gates as the first former prime minister to serve jail time.

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 September 2016, he 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.

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.”

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.

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)

Hebrew media reported that the parole board declared that it did not consider the furor over the book to be a factor against his early release.

The State Prosecutor’s Office reportedly said it would study the decision before considering whether or not to appeal against it.

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.

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

A person close to Olmert told the Ynet news site Wednesday that the former premier and mayor of Jerusalem was extremely tense ahead of the hearing.

“He hopes to be released soon and be able to return to his children and grandchildren. This is all he cares about right now. He has no immediate plans for the day after [release] and all his energy is focused on…[being] released from prison. He believes, rightly, that he doesn’t deserve to be there one more day,” said the Olmert associate at the time.

Earlier this week, the former premier was released from Tel Hashomer hospital after being admitted for chest pains a week prior.

After a picture of Olmert in a hospital gown, eating with plastic cutlery, surfaced on Friday last week, both Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that it was time for him to be released from prison.

“Like all the people of Israel, I saw the picture of Ehud Olmert in the hospital and I was shocked,” Kahlon tweeted on Sunday. “Olmert was tried and served his proper sentence and should not be humiliated or degraded beyond that. Nobody questions his … many years of tremendous contribution to the security of Israel. The time has come to release Ehud Olmert to his family.”

Bennett too said it was time for Olmert to be released. “This is a person who, with all the political differences between us, has certainly made a very deep contribution to the security of the country … when he served as prime minister,” he said this week.

The Prisons Service had refitted a wing in the Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle to house Olmert, keeping him in a separate complex shared only by carefully screened fellow convicts.

Other politicians have also served time in the prison, including former president Moshe Katsav and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

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