Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was ordered to serve jail time after the country’s Supreme Court upheld his conviction in one of Israel’s biggest real estate corruption scandals when he was Jerusalem mayor more than a decade ago.
Barring a surprise change, Olmert will be the first Israeli prime minister to spend time behind bars. The court ruling partially accepted an appeal submitted by Olmert, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009, reducing his sentence from six years to 18 months. The same court found him guilty in March 2014 of taking bribes from real estate developers to build a massive luxury apartment complex in Jerusalem.
Olmert is one of eight officials and businessmen, including another former Jerusalem mayor, convicted in the case, which has become known as the Holy land affair after the complex that was subsequently built. He and some of the others found guilty in the case are scheduled to begin their jail sentences Feb. 15. This is the second conviction for Olmert. He was also found guilty in 2014 of accepting campaign contributions from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky in exchange for political favors when he was mayor. He received an eight-month sentence in that case, but has yet to serve jail time. Speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s decision, Olmert said he was relieved that his sentence was reduced, but continued to maintain his innocence. “Its been a difficult few years for me and my family, there was a dark cloud hanging over me because of the Holyland affair. Now I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted,” he said. “I have said in the past and I say it again today: I never took any bribes but still I respect the decision of the Supreme Court judges.” The sentence of another former Jerusalem mayor, Uri Lupolianski, was also reduced after he was acquitted of some of the bribery charges. He will serve six months of community service. Olmert might be the first ex-prime minister to serve jail time, but he is not the first high level Israeli official to do so. He will join the country’s eighth president, Moshe Katsav, who is in the midst of a seven-year sentence for rape and other sexual-related crimes.
Israeli government minister Aryeh Deri from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party also spent time in prison in the early 2000s for taking bribes when he was a government minister. He was released from jail in 2002 and, after a nearly 10-year hiatus, returned to political life in 2013. Over the last few weeks, Israel’s political system has been dogged with some fresh high-profile scandals forcing legislators to stand down from their posts. Last week, after several women accused him of sexual assault, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom resigned from his position. Shalom, ranked sixth in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, previously served in a variety of government positions and had been involved in politics for more than 20 years. Less than a month ago, former television journalist and parliamentarian Yinon Magal, from the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, also stood down amid accusations of sexual harassment from former female colleagues.