Ex-PM Olmert Admits to Obstruction of Justice as Part of Plea Bargain

Jerusalem judge partially accepts plea bargain, expresses doubt over the sides' request to let Olmert serve prison sentences concurrently.

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

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Tuesday partially accepted the plea bargain agreement the prosecution signed with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert whereby he admitted to and was convicted of two counts of obstruction of justice.

However, Judge Avital Chen expressed doubts over the sides' request to sentence Olmert to six months concurrent to time being served. The court is to rule on sentencing on February 10.

If the court accepts 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. He is also to pay a fine of 50,000 shekels (about $12,600). Olmert will start serving his prison term on February 15.

"A sentence of six months and a fine is beyond appropriate. What concerns me is the overlap," Judge Chen said during Tuesday's hearing, noting that even a heavier sentence would have no meaning if it was concurrent to time served.

Attorney Keren Bar-Menachem of the Central District Prosecution asked the judge to accept the plea deal, noting that Olmert accepted responsibility for his actions.

Chen responded by asserting that Olmert "took responsibility to avoid prison, not voluntarily."

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. The tape was made in May 2011 at a Jerusalem hotel where they met to discuss the cases. Olmert warned Zaken that prosecutor Uri Korb would “slaughter her” on the witness stand. He also warned Zaken that she wouldn’t be acquitted unless he was, too. 

“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. 

Olmert’s associates said he accepted the plea bargain because he is exhausted and also wants to spare his family the suffering of another trial.

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 26 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.