Finally, a Moment of Truth for Ehud Olmert

The district court judges in Jerusalem believed the former PM to be a 'very special case.' Judge David Rozen may concur, but with widely different consequences.

Ido Baum
Ido Baum
Decision time has come in the corruption case of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Decision time has come in the corruption case of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.Credit: Amit Shabi
Ido Baum
Ido Baum

At 9 A.M. Tuesday morning, Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen will read the sentences for most of those convicted in the Holyland corruption trial. The prosecution sought heavy sentences for them. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, convicted on two counts of accepting bribes, will receive most of the attention, as usual.

Olmert’s sentence will be compared to the one handed down by the Jerusalem District Court, which convicted him of fraud and breach of trust in the Investment Center case, giving a one-year suspended sentence and fine of 75,000 shekels ($21,700).

Bribery charges are much more serious. Despite the difference, the sentence handed down by the Jerusalem District Court provides a point of comparison that can teach us a thing or two about a judge’s work.

On the one hand, the Jerusalem court criticized Olmert’s actions participating in decisions pertaining to granting government benefits without revealing that the benefits were for clients of his friend, attorney Uri Messer, by calling them “a severe conflict of interests.”

On the other hand, the judges issued a sentence much more lenient than the prosecution team was pushing for (six months in prison), due to the fact that Olmert is a “very special case.” The prosecution appealed the sentence – and that appeal is ongoing.

What makes Olmert such a special case? The Jerusalem District Court judges saw significance in the fact that Olmert resigned as prime minister of his own volition, even before indictments were issued.

Further, they highlighted the fact that his resignation followed two cases that received public attention but ended in acquittal – the Talansky and Rishon Tours cases. Olmert stepped down from office primarily due to the early testimony of U.S. businessman Morris Talansky, the key witness in the “money envelopes” case.

The judges considered it important that Olmert had stepped down from the post of prime minister – “the highest dream” of any politician. They stated that “his resignation at the height of his term bears a certain amount of importance.”

The length of the proceedings was also taken into account, in Olmert’s favor. After the lenient sentence, the judges said that a contributing factor was “the period of four years that has passed since the beginning of the investigation, including a year and a half until indictments were issued.”

With advice from his clever lawyers, Olmert gave up his right to monetary compensation from the government, thus removing any need the court might have had to discuss shame. This was also a consideration made in Olmert’s favor.

The court also cited Olmert’s long history of public service as a reason for leniency.

The Jerusalem District Court judges also stated that if it weren’t for Olmert’s special circumstances, they would have sentenced him to jail time. In light of this fact, and the severe punishment the prosecution is seeking in the Holyland case – five to seven years for Olmert – it’s hard to imagine Rozen issuing a suspended sentence.

The question, therefore, is how far will Rozen go? Does he also consider Olmert to be “a very special case”? And if so, how special?

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