Olmert Likely to Get Long Jail Term in Tuesday's Sentencing

Ehud Olmert's legal team is fearing the worst as the former prime minister faces sentences for Holyland bribes.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Ehud Olmert at sentence hearing, April 29, 2014
Ehud Olmert at sentence hearing, April 29, 2014Credit: Moti Milrod
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

After 10 years of complex investigations into former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen will this morning hand down his sentence in the Holyland corruption case. Olmert is expected to receive a hefty sentence, joining a long list of elected officials who have been convicted of corruption and sentenced to jail in recent years.

The ruling will relate to seven of the 10 individuals convicted in the Holyland case, which concerns bribe-taking in the development of Jerusalem’s controversial residential project: Those who bribed – Hillel Cherney, Avigdor Kellner, Meir Rabin and Danny Dankner – as well as those who took the bribes – Uri Shitreet, Ehud Olmert and Eli Simhayoff.

The 50-page ruling will contain mostly numbers: The number of years each defendant will be required to serve in jail. Cherney and Kellner, for example, are expected to receive 8 to 9 years apiece. For the first time, the court is dealing with each act of bribery separately, and not all of the sentences will be related.

“The sentencing in this case needs to be big and it needs to fit the crimes, to both warn and deter the public in order to destroy these problems of corruption at their roots,” said attorney Yonatan Tadmor, a prosecutor in the case. The maximum sentence handed down for comparable bribery offenses is a six-year prison term. The prosecution is seeking at least six years for Olmert.

During the pleading stage, the defense attorneys requested that any sentences be reduced to community service only. When the defense attorneys mentioned the sentences handed down in the 2011 David Vanunu-Tax Authority case, Rozen stated that such punishments were not fitting for the Holyland trial. When Olmert’s defense attorney, Eli Zohar, pointed to precedents with lighter sentences for accepting larger bribes than the 500,000 shekels ($144.7 million) Olmert accepted, and stated that the punishment should correspond to the size of the bribe, Rozen disagreed and told him the “exorbitant” sum in question could not be ignored.

In his statement during the sentencing hearing, Olmert said, “I never asked or received a bribe, neither directly nor indirectly, not for myself or for those close to me or my relatives.” He kept his statement brief, saying he believed the court would “make an effort to see the full picture.”

Despite his statement, the Olmert camp is not optimistic regarding the punishment that will be handed down this morning, instead preparing to fight for the hearts and minds of the Supreme Court justices. As soon as the hearing is over, one can expect attacks on Rozen to intensify.

The judge’s position on bribery is clear. Three years ago, he sentenced Vanunu, a high-ranking official at the Tax Authority, to six years for four counts of bribery, tax fraud and obstruction of justice.

Even though Tuesday’s hearing is meant to be the final act in the Holyland case, it is only a partial end, as most of those convicted are expected to file appeals. By the end of the week, the new investigation into Olmert – fueled by information provided by Olmert’s former aide, Shula Zaken – on suspicions of obstruction of justice and coercing a witness, is expected to end. Some of Zaken’s information will be presented in a hearing on Thursday. Directly following the rulings, the defense attorneys are expected to request a delay in carrying out the sentences during the appeals process, which the courts generally grant.

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