Ex-PM Olmert Handed 8 Months in Jail for ‘Cash Envelopes’ Affair

Ehud Olmert was found guilty in March of unlawfully accepting money from American supporter Moshe Talansky.

Gil Yohanan

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was handed an eight months prison sentence at the Jerusalem District Court on Monday morning, following his conviction for fraud and breach of trust in the Talansky “cash envelopes” affair. He was also fined 100,000 shekels ($25,000).

The prosecution had called on the court to sentence Olmert to at least one year in prison, as well as imposing a fine. Olmert’s attorney asked the court to take into consideration his client’s public service and impose a suspended sentence rather than time behind bars. Olmert has already been sentenced to six years jail time and a one million shekel fine after being found guilty of taking bribes in the Holyland scandal.

Acceding the request made by Olmert's legal team, the judges postponed the jailing by 45 days, in order to allow for an appeal.

Judge Yaakov Saban, who helmed the proceedings, said leniency in the sentencing and in its implementation was due to an appreciation of Olmert's contribution to the state, and the hardships he suffered during the legal process – but added that such considerations would not bring about an avoidance of a prison sentence.

Olmert's lawyer, Eyal Rozovsky, said the former prime minister's legal team was "very disappointed" by the ruling and would appeal to the Supreme Court. In a statement issued minutes after the verdict was proclaimed, Olmert's team said the sentence "only adds to the severe suffering he has already been through... The punishment is very severe, especially in light of the circumstances of Mr. Olmert, who stepped down from his position as prime minister due to the investigations, removed himself from the public sphere for the several years duration, gave up his high position, and forfeited the benefits he was entitled to as a former prime minister We believe these things were sufficient reason to soften the punishment of a man who was convicted of bribery offences that were allegedly made some 13 years ago. As it has been proven to the court, Mr. Olmert contributed much to the security of the State of Israel, to the strengthening of its international standing and to the welfare of its citizens – and it would have been appropriate had these things been taken into account."

The prosecution, one of Olmert's lawyers told the press following the reading of the verdict, had failed to convincingly prove that Olmert had used the funds for his personal use.

Earlier this month, the Jerusalem court heard arguments regarding the severity of the sentence. Olmert exercised his right as the defendant to have the final word, giving his version regarding the damning secret recordings of his conversations, made by his former bureau chief Shula Zaken (who turned state’s witness in the case last year). It was these recordings that led to the reopening of the case, after Olmert had previously been acquitted in 2012.

Olmert refrained from expressing remorse or taking responsibility. “I don’t ignore my conviction or take it lightly,” he told the court. “Nevertheless, I believe the court should consider my contribution to the State of Israel, to its security, and its social and economic situation. I hope that the errors you identified in my conduct will be balanced by my tireless devotion to the welfare of the state and its people.”

Olmert asked the judges to consider the suffering caused him by the lengthy judicial proceedings. “I feel there is no greater punishment than the one I’ve been living with for many years,” he said. “For a tenth of my life I’ve been a punching bag, with anyone hitting hardest reaping support and sympathy. Any sentence you impose will only add to the incessant moments of agony with which I’ve been contending.”

In the Talansky case, Olmert was convicted of accepting hundreds of thousands of shekels in cash-filled envelopes from U.S. businessman Moshe Talansky, keeping the money unreported and filing false reports with the state comptroller. In July 2012, Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert of these charges. He was convicted of breach of trust in a separate case.

The acquittal was based on doubts regarding the use Olmert made of these funds. The judges claimed it had not been proven that Olmert used the money for private gain, so he was acquitted.

Last year, however, Zaken incriminated Olmert through the damning secret recordings she had made, proving that the money was in fact used for private purposes. This led to a reversal of the original verdict.

Throughout the trial, the prosecution stressed that Olmert denied his deeds and lied to the court, which should lead to a stiffer sentence.

The judges also criticized Olmert for lying.

“His cynicism shook the rafters,” said the prosecution, adding that Olmert didn’t “express any remorse or cooperate with the authorities, lying to police and the courts.” Things dragged on because of Olmert’s lies, the prosecution said, negating the prolonged process as an extenuating factor.

The prosecution also said Olmert’s status did not warrant a lighter sentence, saying, “It should make the sentence harsher, not lighter.”