Court Rejects Former Prime Minister Olmert's Plea Deal, Adding Month to Sentence

Olmert will begin jail time mid-February, but Israel's top court must still rule on final case and decide if former prime minister will be jailed for 19 or 27 months.

Ehud Olmert at the Supreme Court, during a hearing on the appeal in the Holyland corruption case, Dec. 29, 2015.
Emil Salman

The Jerusalem District's Court rejected Wednesday a plea bargain agreement the prosecution signed with Ehud Olmert whereby he admitted to and was convicted of two counts of obstruction of justice. The court's rejection effectively adds a month's time to the former prime minister's 18 month jail sentance.

Last week, a lower court partially accepted the deal, but Judge Avital Chen expressed doubts over the sides' request to sentence Olmert to six months concurrent to time being served.

If the court was to accept the plea bargain in full, Olmert would get six months, to be served concurrently with the 18-month sentence he received for taking a bribe in the Holyland case. However, the court decided he would serve five of those months concurrently and one more month independently. Pending a court ruling on another case, the prime minister could end up serving up to 27 months, though legal proceedings on the additional case are now frozen.

Olmert will start serving his prison term on February 15 and will also pay a fine of 50,000 shekels (about $12,600).

The indictment in the obstruction of justice case, which was filed shortly after the plea bargain was signed, is based on two recorded conversations between Olmert and his former chief aide, Shula Zaken, which Zaken gave prosecutors as part of her own plea bargain in the Holyland case. 

In one tape, Olmert can be heard trying to persuade Zaken not to testify against him in three earlier corruption cases. “Remember one thing: If I’m not acquitted, nobody will be acquitted,” he said.

Zaken ultimately didn’t testify, and ended up being convicted in a case in which Olmert was cleared.

In the second tape, Olmert can be heard urging Zaken not to sign a plea bargain in the Holyland case, saying this would undermine his chances of acquittal. In exchange, he offered to support her and her family, find her a lawyer and help pay her legal expenses, the indictment said.

At a later meeting in Zaken’s house, where she showed Olmert the draft plea bargain, he again urged her not to sign it, but said that if she did, she should demand certain changes – which he specified – to protect him. 

Nevertheless, his attorneys failed to reach an agreement with the prosecution on yet another case. In the Talansky case, Olmert was convicted of accepting cash-filled envelopes from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky and failing to report the income. A lower court sentenced him to eight months in prison, but the Supreme Court is slated to hear his appeal against both the conviction and the sentence next week on Tuesday.

Olmert had offered to drop his appeal if the prosecution would let this sentence, too, be served concurrently with the Holyland sentence, which is already final. But the prosecution refused, as it wants the sentences served consecutively, which would mean that Olmert spends 27 months in jail altogether.

The Supreme Court will therefore hear the appeal of the Talansky verdict as planned. It will also hear the state’s appeal of Olmert’s acquittal in the Rishon Tours case, in which he was accused of double-billing various nonprofit organizations for overseas flights and pocketing the difference.