Olmert Becomes Second Ex-prime Minister to Join Medical Marijuana Company

Univo discounts Olmert’s criminal conviction and points to his ‘rich experience’ in healthcare

Shelly Appelberg
Shelly Appelberg
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File Photo: Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks to the press at the District Court in Jerusalem after hearing the verdict in his trial, July 10, 2012.
File Photo: Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks to the press at the District Court in Jerusalem after hearing the verdict in his trial, July 10, 2012. Credit: AFP
Shelly Appelberg
Shelly Appelberg

Not just one, but two former Israeli prime ministers are now affiliated with Israeli medical marijuana companies.

Univo Pharmaceuticals said on Wednesday it had named Ehud Olmert as a consultant, thus joining Ehud Barak who was named chairman of InterCure last September as Israel’s rapidly developed medical cannabis industry employs star power to enhance its high-tech credentials.

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Olmert was convicted and served jail time after he stepped down as prime minister in 2008, which means under law he can neither be a major shareholder nor serve on the board of directors of a publicly traded company. As a consultant for Univo, however, he will get a monthly salary of $10,000 for about 40 hours of work.

Ido Hagag, a major shareholder in Univo, was unapologetic about naming someone with a criminal past to a key role in the company. Olmert was convicted of two counts of bribery that occurred while he was mayor of Jerusalem.

“He was the country’s best prime minister and led Jerusalem and the country,” he said. “I don’t look at the 60,000 shekels [$16,700] in his campaign fund. He’s a wonderful person. He can take the share price to new places.”

In fact, on Wednesday Olmert’s appointment did just that: Univo’s shares soared more than 37% on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange to 5.80 shekels.

Univo said Olmert would be contributing “his rich experience in the area of health” to the company. The former prime minister is chairman of the Public Council for a Healthy Lifestyle and leads a group of investors putting money into global medical companies, according to Univo’s press release.

Olmert is also investing as much as 3 million shekels in the company in return for options for up to a 3% stake.

His appointment comes at a time of ferment for Israel’s medical-marijuana industry and Univo. Israel’s cabinet approved exports of medical cannabis products in January, opening the prospect of a global market for the local industry.

Last month, Golan Bitton, Univo’s CEO and controlling shareholder, unveiled a new strategy to develop formulations that would enable users to take their cannabis through inhalers. That would enable doctors to prescribe more exact dosages.

Univo has a license from Israel’s Health Ministry to operate a processing plant but has yet to receive one to grow cannabis. The plant, a 750,000-square-meter facility under construction, will contain manufacturing space and research and development labs.

Amid all the action, many Israeli companies have tapped high-profile personalities. Besides Barak, InterCure has named Maj.Gen. (ret.) Nitzan Alon as CEO of its Canndoc subsidiary and Together Pharma appointed former Israel Police commissioner Yohanan Danino as chairman.

Meanwhile, another Israeli company said on Wednesday it was joining the medical marijuana segment. The biotechnology company Evogene said it would put its computational predictive biology to develop next generation medical cannabis products via a new formed subsidiary called Canonic.

Its shares shot up more than 33% on the TASE to 8.24 on the news.

“Evogene has been evaluating the medical cannabis field for more than a year, including market evaluation, obtaining governmental approvals for its research program and the establishment of a research facility, technology assessment and initial product line planning,” Evogene said.

Canonic will initially focus on creating improved cannabis varieties by addressing the current developmental roadblocks of yield, stability and specific metabolite composition.

“The field of medical cannabis fits perfectly within both our plant genomics activities and our human therapeutics activities,” said CEO Ofer Haviv in a press statement.

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