Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in prison on Tuesday for his conviction on two counts of bribery in the Holyland corruption case.
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"A public servant who accepts bribes is akin to a traitor," Judge David Rozen said in his opening statements, which were read in the Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday morning. The defendants, he said, deserve a severe punishment that will help uproot corruption.
In March, Olmert was found guilty of accepting bribes when he served as mayor of Jerusalem, in exchange for helping the developers of the city's Holyland Park residential project.
Olmert, who stood quietly in the courtroom with his head bowed, said he will appeal both the verdict and the sentence to the Supreme Court. In addition to the prison sentence, Olmert was fined one million shekels ($290,000).
Ahead of the sentencing, Rozen praised Olmert and his work for the public good, saying he is "an impressive, warm, and very intelligent man who knows how to convince others. He is a respectful man who made a large contribution to the country." He then went on to harshly condemn the former prime minister's "noxious" offenses.
"The defendants acted in a closed space, hidden from the public eye," Rozen said, referring to Olmert and Uri Sheetrit, Jerusalem's former chief engineer, who was convicted of receiving bribes and sentenced to seven years in prison.
"But the putrescence they produced there did not stay confined to that space... Olmert took advantage of his position as a public servant and accepted massive amounts of money, as detailed in the conviction... This is a man who was on top of the world – he served as prime minister, the most important position, and from there he reached the position of a man convicted of criminal offenses."
Olmert and Sheetrit, said Rozen, "are not run-of-the-mill criminals, mired in the crime world, but rather criminals who operated while working in their public roles, for the public good. Their talents and the important work they did propelled them to summits - but were used as a platform for the corrupt offenses they engaged in, in parallel to their normative work."
The defendants, said the judge, "deserve punishment that will express contempt, and help to uproot a contagious affliction that is not limited to the theoretical realm."
'A sad day'
President Shimon Peres, on an official visit in Norway, commented on Olmert's sentence. "This is a legal process that takes place in democratic countries. I don't have a role in the legal system, and it is clean from personal influences. This is a sad day for me, personally."
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, meanwhile, said it was a sad day for Israeli democracy. "A day in which a former prime minister is sent to jail is a sad day for Israeli democracy as well as a sad day for me on a personal level," he said. "But at the same time, it is an important day in which the legal system showed that no man is above the law."
Olmert, ahead of the sentencing on Tuesday morning, released a statement: "This is a sad day in which an unjust and severe sentence is expected to be handed down on an innocent man."
Olmert had denied wrongdoing in the Holyland apartment complex deal, as well as other corruption allegations that forced his resignation as premier in 2008.
The maximum sentence handed down for comparable bribery offenses is a seven-year prison term. The prosecution was seeking at least six years for Olmert.
The ruling related to seven of the 10 individuals convicted in the Holyland case, which concerns bribe-taking in the development of Jerusalem’s controversial residential project: Those who bribed – Hillel Cherney, Avigdor Kellner, Meir Rabin and Danny Dankner – as well as those who took the bribes – Uri Sheetrit, Ehud Olmert and Eli Simhayoff.
Cherney, owner of the Holyland complex, who was convicted of bribing Jerusalem officials, received three and a half years in prison and a fine of 2 million shekels. Kellner, one of the founders of "Holyland Park" company, who was convicted of bribery charges but acquitted of other offenses, was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 1 million shekels.
Rabin, right-hand man to state witness Shmuel Dechner, who was also convicted of bribing Jerusalem officials, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Rozen ordered all those sentenced to appear before the prison service on September 1. Sentencing for former mayor of Jerusalem Uri Lupolianski and former committee member in the Jerusalem municipality Avraham Feiner will be given on June 9.
The prosecution asked Rozen to sentence Olmert to at least six years in prison for accepting a 500,000-shekel ($144,000) bribe on behalf of his brother, and two to four years in prison for taking some 60,000 shekels ($17,000) in bribes to cover his personal expenses. The prosecution said there could be some overlap between the sentences.
“The defendant is not a symbol,” prosecutor Yonatan Tadmor said, quoting from the judgement in the case against former president Moshe Katsav, who is in prison for rape and other sex crimes. “The fact that the defendant served in the highest position does not serve as immunity for him in the face of punishment as for all people. The opposite.”