Former Israeli prime minister sentenced to six years in prison for accepting bribes to help housing developers
- Ehud Olmert, 68, solicited payments from developers for his brother and a city official while serving as mayor of Jerusalem
- Ordered to serve six years in prison but says he’ll appeal against sentence
- Olmert tried to achieve peace with Palestinians before being forced to quit as PM due to corruption charges
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was today sentenced to six years in prison for accepting bribes from housing developers.
The verdict marks a drastic fall from grace for the former statesman, who was hoping to return to power at the next election.
Olmert, 68, is the latest in a number of senior Israeli politicians who have been jailed in recent years, including a former president, cabinet minister and several lawmakers.
The cases have shamed the country’s political class – but also sparked pride in the strength of the courts, which have proved that no one is above the law.
Jailed: Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, has been sentenced to six years in prison
Fall from grace: Olmert was forced to resign in 2009 following persistent claims of corruption
In a court in Tel Aviv, Olmert was convicted of involvement in a multi-million-dollar real estate scandal while he was major of Jerusalem between 1993 and 2003.
He was accused of taking bribes to promote a controversial housing development in Jerusalem that required a radical change in zoning laws and tax breaks for developers.
Olmert asked the businessmen behind the Holyland project to pay $100,000 to his brother Yossi, who fled Israel because of financial problems.
He also solicited funds for engineer Uri Sheetrit, who also had money difficulties and who subsequently backed the high-rise Holyland complex.
Olmert became prime minister in 2006, after his mentor Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke, but was forced to resign in 2009 thanks to the persistent corruption allegations.
Statesman: Olmert worked with figures such as George W. Bush in an attempt to end the Middle East conflict
Reputation: Olmert, pictured with Gordon Brown, was a hardline right-winger who became a centrist
During sentencing, judge David Rozen said: ‘A public servant who accepts bribes is akin to a traitor.
‘This is a man who was on top of the world. He served as prime minister, the most important position, and from there he reached the position of a man convicted of criminal offences.’
Olmert is set to appeal against the guilty verdict and his jail sentence, but has been ordered to report to prison on September 1.
His spokesman Amir Dan called it a ‘sad day’ in which an ‘unjust verdict’ was delivered against an innocent man, adding: ‘It is a very serious sentence and we put our faith in the Supreme Court.’
Assuming that Olmert does end up in jail, extra security arrangements will have to be put in place to accommodate his high-profile status.
The politician was known as a hardline Right-winger, but began to take a more moderate line towards the Palestinians after he became deputy prime minister a decade ago.
Olmert led the centrist Kadima Party to victory in parliamentary elections in 2006, on a platform of pushing further peace moves with the Palestinians.
Corruption: Olmert pictured when he was mayor of Jerusalem, the time when the charges date back to
In office, he shocked many countrymen by warning that Israel could become like apartheid South Africa offering to give up control of parts of Jerusalem as part of a peace deal.
Olmert led his government to the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007 – launching more than a year of ambitious, but unsuccessful peace talks with the Palestinians.
Despite his ambitious agenda, Olmert’s term was clouded by the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier who was captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid and an inconclusive war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
But it was the corruption allegations which accompanied much of his political career that ultimately proved his undoing, as he was forced to resign to answer the charges against him.
Olmert has already faced a trial on separate charges of accepting illicit funds from an American supporter and double-billing Jewish groups for trips abroad.
In that case, he was cleared in 2012 of the most serious charges but convicted on a lesser count of breach of trust and given a suspended one-year sentence.
He had signalled his intention to challenge prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he won his case on the real-estate charges.