Olmert's Old Friends From Knesset Visit Him in Prison

Zionist Union's Peretz, Hasson spend 45 minutes with former PM, who's serving 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice.

Ehud Olmert.
Olivier Fitoussi

MKs Amir Peretz and Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) visited former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in prison, making use of their right as Knesset members to visit prisoners to ensure that their rights are being maintained.

Olmert began serving a 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice at Ma’asiyahu prison in February.

“We are friends and we visited him a month ago," Peretz said, adding: “I don’t want to talk about the content of the meeting but Ehud Olmert is a friend of mine and I visited him in prison. I have nothing more to say.”

With Hasson abroad, his office said: “Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is now paying his debt to society as imposed by the court. As he serves his sentence, Mr. Olmert has obligations as well as rights. In the framework of prisoners’ rights, the law allows Knesset members to visit any prisoner in the Israel Prison Service, including Mr. Olmert. Mr. Hasson’s visit to Mr. Olmert, who was a colleague and [political] partner as well as a close friend, was coordinated properly with the prison service and the Public Security Ministry and took place in keeping with all the rules.”

Last week Channel 2 News reported that 37 attorneys have visited Olmert since he began serving his sentence. According to the report, Olmert signed power of attorney to 37 lawyers, among them friends of his. Channel 10 News reported Friday that former MK Haim Ramon also visited Olmert, and renewed his license to practice law so he could do so.

The Prison Service realizes that Olmert’s conduct could embitter other prisoners and lead them to conduct similar visits from numerous attorneys. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Prison Service Commissioner Ofra Klinger therefore announced a change in the procedure: A prisoner will be able to receive up to three visits a week from representatives of law firms, and no more than one visit per day (a number of lawyers from the same firm can participate in the visit). All visits will be a maximum of 45 minutes. Another possibility under consideration is that a prisoner will have to present a signed contract of representation with a lawyer to allow that lawyer to visit.

The Justice Ministry is reportedly furious over the Prison Service’s decision, which officials said was made without consulting them, and several attorneys have already approached the Israel Bar Association to protest the move. The lawyers say the new regulation constitutes collective punishment because of Olmert’s scandalous conduct. They say that a 45-minute meeting with their client is not enough. According to one lawyer, “We come from the center of the country, traveling for hours to work with a prisoner from Hermon Prison [in the north] or in the south and we can’t make do with 45 minutes and so we will have to come back the next day.” The lawyer said he believed a petition would be made to the High Court of Justice on the matter.

Meanwhile, preparations by the Prison Service and the Shin Bet security service for Olmert’s first furlough are causing tension between the two agencies. After submitting a request to Ma’asiyahu Prison, Olmert is expected to have his first furlough, of 48 hours, at the beginning of next month. The Shin Bet tried to claim that Olmert should be guarded by the Prison Service during his furlough because the service has a special unit to secure the area where Olmert will be staying. The Shin Bet also said Olmert no longer requires protection at the highest level, so the Prison Service can guard him at home or wherever he spends the 48 hours.

However, the prison service is refusing to provide such protection, arguing that the moment Olmert leaves the prison he is the responsibility of the Shin Bet, and should be guarded the way every other former prime minister is guarded.

Olmert has also made things more difficult for the Prison Service by demanding that both his residences — in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem — be guarded during his furlough. The Prison Service is expected to deny Olmert’s request.