Former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Monday was sentenced by the Jerusalem District Court to eight months of jail time on his conviction for fraud under aggravated circumstances in the Talansky retrial. The court also fined Olmert NIS 100,000.
Olmert lawyers appealed the sentence and the court agreed to their request to hold off the sentence for 45 days for time to appeal.
The former prime minister's lawyer Eyal Rozovsky told the media at the courthouse that he respects the court's decision but there were difficulties and mistakes in it.
"We tried convincing the court of the justice of our case. Olmert isn't happy. We wanted no jail time," Rozovsky said.
Olmert's other lawyer Eli Zohar told the press after the sentencing that it was a "very, very hard day."
He complained about the case being sent back after Olmert was acquitted and said that there was tampering with the Shula Zaken recordings that led to the retrial.
State prosecutor Uri Korb told the press, after the decision was given, that the court had ruled unambiguously that the defendant (Olmert) broke the law while he was a high level public servant.
"The court said that crimes like this could not lead to anything but jail and it said it took into account his contributions to the state but still gave him jail time," Korb said.
The defense and the prosecution were asked about the possibility of negotiating a plea bargain by wrapping up together Olmert's two jail sentences and his third outstanding obstruction of justice case.
The defense said it would consider the possibility of such a plea bargain but that it would not discuss it with the media while the state seemed less interested with the idea.
The court had convicted Olmert in March
of illegally receiving, using and concealing at least $153,950 (out of an alleged $600,000) in funds in envelopes from New York businessman Morris Talansky between 1993 and 2002, with the case itself dating back to 2008.
The jail sentence is Olmert’s second following a six year sentence he received in the Holyland real estate trial on a conviction for bribery.
Though he has appealed that conviction and sentence, the Supreme Court did not sound sympathetic when it heard the appeal.
The three-judge panel of Jacob Zaban, Moshe Sobel and Rivkah Friedman-Feldman handed down a jail sentence despite a personal and desperate plea by Olmert on May 5 in which he whispered and practically begged the judges to keep him out of prison, saying “I do not take the conviction lightly” and “I respect the [court’s] decision.”
The conviction in a retrial of charges he had been acquitted of in July 2012 was a shocking turn-around for a man who ran the country until 2009 and was a fixture in the country’s halls of power for decades.
The retrial involved the court hearing new evidence based on recordings, a journal and testimony by former top Olmert aide-turned-state-witness Shula Zaken against Olmert, none of which was available for his original trial.
The court found that the new Zaken recordings, her journal and much of her testimony was acceptable as evidence even at this late stage in the case, post acquittal, and that the evidence changed its conclusion from acquittal into convicting Olmert.
Zaban’s main decision, with Sobol and Friedman-Feldman agreeing on the conviction, but writing separate opinions interpreting the facts, said that Zaken had received funds for illegal use at least twice.
Most significantly, the court found that a recording of Olmert telling Zaken she could take funds from the secret safe for her illegal use contradicted and torpedoed his narrative that he did not know about the funds or assumed they were being used for permitted political purposes.
Rather, the court said that Olmert’s statements to Zaken in the recordings eliminated the slight doubt they had had about his awareness of the funds being used illegally which had paved the way to his 2012 acquittal.
Zaban also slammed Olmert for failing to testify in the retrial to rebut all of the new evidence against him, including explaining the recordings which appeared to show that his testimony in the original case was false.
The sentence was a further vindication of the state in general, and state prosecutor Korb in particular, who had asked the court to sentence Olmert to serve a halfway amount of time between eight to 18 months, or around 13 months in jail for his conviction in the Talansky retrial.
Olmert’s lawyers had asked for no jail time and a mere six months community service.
Backing up their request for leniency, Olmert and his team rolled out letters to the court from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Mossad head Meir Dagan to describe his contributions.
Blair’s letter to the court stated that, “Ehud was a leader with a vision both of Israel’s security and of the need for a wider peace in the Middle East.”
It continued, “He was tough in ensuring that Israel was protected; and resolute in his belief that peace was an indispensable part of such protection … The personal relations between me and Ehud went beyond that between heads of government, and were based on friendship and trust with a clear understanding of the needs and sensitivities of the other side. Ehud’s conscious efforts to bring peace with Israel’s neighbors should be admired."
Dagan’s letter said, "Olmert was an exceptional prime minister. He made many courageous decisions ... which contributed and continue to contribute to the state’s security."
Dagan noted that he worked with Olmert a lot since 2003, and "worked intensively" together since Olmert became PM in 2006."
Korb asked for a harsh sentence saying that Olmert’s actions were “causing a loss of faith of the public” in government and encouraging it to think that “everyone is corrupt and there is nothing we can do.”
He said the same average citizen was now saying that “anyone who says differently is naïve” and asked rhetorically “why should only I be a sucker” and tell the truth to police and the authorities if persons who mislead the police and the courts as he said Olmert had done, could get away with leniency.
Korb also referred to the “fantastic amounts” of funds that Olmert dealt with illegally and accused him of having “corrupted [his former bureau chief Shula] Zaken with his corrupt actions.”
He emphasized that the court had convicted Olmert of not low-level fraud, but aggravated fraud, because of the large amounts of funds illegally used, the long continuity of the violations and Olmert’s high office.
In contrast, Olmert doubled down on his contributions to the state, and pleaded for the judges to take that into account, saying that in regards to public service, he had always tried to act toward what he thought was “good, right and helpful” to society.
In trying to get leniency, Olmert’s lawyer Rozovsky admitted for the first time publicly that his political career is dead saying there was no need to deter him about the future with a harsher punishment since “he’s lost his world…he has no public future.”
Both Olmert and his lawyer described nine years of investigations and the impact on his family, including his grandchildren being asked embarrassing questions about their grandfather, as being punishment enough.