Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert Handed Suspended Sentence, NIS 75,300 Fine

Jerusalem District Court issues sentence months after Olmert convicted of breach of trust, for decisions he made during tenure as industry, trade and labor minister.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced Monday to a one-year suspended prison term and a fine of NIS 75,300, three months after being convicted of breach of trust for decisions he made while serving as industry, trade and labor minister. The state is expect to appeal both the verdict and the sentence.

Prosecutors had requested six months of community service in addition to a fine and a suspended sentence.

Olmert's former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, was given a nine-month suspended sentence and a NIS 40,000 fine yesterday in the same case. She was convicted of fraud and breach of trust in another affair, known as the Rishon Tours affair. Olmert was charged but not convicted in that affair as well as a third, known as the Talansky affair.

In their sentencing ruling the judges described Olmert's offense in harsh terms but also noted that their decision took into consideration the distress caused him by the charges in the case of which he was ultimately acquitted.

The breach of trust conviction was for Olmert's involvement in allocations by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's Investment Center to firms represented by Uri Messer, a close personal friend and former business partner.

Prosecutors are expected to appeal Olmert's acquittal in the Talansky affair within a few weeks. The state will likely focus on the decision to acquit while simultaneously acknowledging that U.S. businessman Morris had transferred hundreds of thousands of shekels to Olmert, some of it in cash, without proper oversight.

Prosecutors may also appeal Olmert's acquittal in the Rishon Tours affair, which involved double-billing state agencies and charities for travel expenses and subsequently using the additional money for private trips abroad with his family.

Shortly after walking out of the courtroom, Olmert told reporters, "I told the judges I hoped to walk out of the courtroom with my head held high, and today I am walking out of the court with my head held high. I already said last time I accept and respect the court's ruling."

After the sentencing Olmert's attorney Navot Tal Tzur said: "The verdict is very clear. The significance placed by the honorable court on [Olmert's] resignation, preliminary investigation, preliminary testimony, the investigation itself and other events were all determining factors in deciding the nature of his punishment. I am grateful to the court for its treatment of this case. From my professional perspective this affair is over and done with," Tal Tzur said, adding that in these circumstances an appeal by the state "will be seen as mere persecution."

Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel, however, said: "This affair is not at over, not by a long shot. He added that the principle of equality before the law made a custodial sentence for Olmert a necessity.

"The conflict of interests and benefits to companies represented by the defendant's friend [Uri Messer] deserve a harsh punishment. But the court ruled otherwise. We respect its decision," Abarbanel said.

Jerusalem District Court President Moussia Arad, who read out the 27-page ruling, noted the strong ties between Olmert and Messer: "The friendship, which was sustained for decades, was exceptional," she said.

Arad emphasized that the crime Olmert was convicted of must not be taken lightly. Breach of trust, she said, is not a "technical offense," adding that conflict of interest is political corruption.

Olmert's relationship with Messer and its intensity "add up to a critical mass, creating an extremely grave and clear conflict of interests," she said.

But Arad also noted that Olmert's mid-term resignation as a result of the allegations was "worthy of consideration." This is no ordinary case, she said. "The position of prime minister is the peak of Israeli politics."

"Not only was the defendant ultimately cleared of the charges, but the state recognized the problems in Talansky's story ... this calls for special consideration," she said.

Ehud Olmert at the Jerusalem District Court.
Omer Meiron