Israeli Supreme Court sends former PM Olmert to prison for corruption

Judges acquitted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of only some of his previous bribery convictions, thereby reducing his original sentence from six years to 18 months. He now becomes the first prime minister in Israeli history to serve time behind bars.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday reduced former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s prison sentence for a sweeping bribery scandal from six years to 18 months, partially accepting his appeal and clearing the ex-premier of the main bribery charge against him.

The court announced Olmert will begin serving his sentence on February 15 — the first Israeli prime minister to ever serve behind bars. Though Olmert’s legal team viewed the ruling as a victory, the top court upheld part of his conviction for taking a lesser bribe.

Olmert, 70, was convicted in March 2014 and sentenced to six years in a wide-ranging case that accused him of accepting bribes to promote the controversial Holy Land real-estate project in Jerusalem. He was charged for actions he took while he was mayor of Jerusalem and the country’s trade minister, before he became prime minister in 2006.

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing and was allowed to stay out of prison until the verdict on his appeal was delivered.

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After Tuesday’s verdict was handed down, Olmert said he was “satisfied” about his partial exoneration. He added it was still a “hard day” but he said he accepted the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“A stone has been lifted from my heart,” he said. “I said in the past, I was never offered and I never took a bribe. And I say that again today.”

The ruling marks a dramatic climax for a man who, only years earlier, led the country, but was forced to resign in early 2009 amid the corruption allegations.

In Olmert’s initial sentencing in the spring of 2014, Justice David Rosen spoke of a “corrupt political system which has decayed over years… and in which hundreds of thousands of shekels were transferred to elected officials.”

The court also implied that Olmert lied during his testimony in court.

In a separate case, Olmert was sentenced earlier this year to eight months in prison for unlawfully accepting money from a US supporter. He is also appealing that sentence.

Other officials charged in case, including former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupoliansky,  were partially exonerated and their sentences reduced, except one who served as a conduit between the parties.