Supreme Court sends Olmert to slammer with reduced sentence

First PM in history to get jail sentence; will serve 18 months rather than 6 years.

By
December 29, 2015 09:41

Former PM Ehud Olmert enters court

Former PM Ehud Olmert enters court

 
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Ehud Olmert is to become the country’s first prime minister to serve time behind bars after the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled ordered him to prison for 18 months for his bribery conviction in the Holyland case, ending one of the most dramatic criminal trials in Israel’s history.

The former prime minister will begin serving his sentence, which the court reduced from six years, on February 15, unless he succeeds in a long-shot appeal to President Reuven Rivlin for a pardon.

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“A great rock has been removed from my heart since the Supreme Court found that I am innocent of the central accusation in the Holyland case... this has been a black cloud over me that has troubled and oppressed me... I said in the past that I was never offered and I never received a bribe and I say this even today,” Olmert said at a press conference outside the court room immediately after the decision was announced.




“But as I have my entire life, I will respect the decision of the Supreme Court.... This is the time to thank my family, my kids and my 11 grandchildren” who “supported” and “suffered with” him during the lengthy saga.

He thanked his legal team and “the thousands of Israeli citizens,” who he said “have supported me, had faith in me” and felt his suffering.

His team on Tuesday suggested they would request a pardon, but Rivlin’s spokeswoman said no such request had been received and that once it was it would be dealt with like any other pardon request.



The spokeswoman said that since no request had been received, she could not commit to responding before February 15, though if a request is filed it would be surprising if Rivlin did not respond before Olmert’s prison date.

The sentence finalizes a finding of moral turpitude against Olmert, which would keep him out of public office for a further seven years after he is released from prison. He still has an appeal pending on his eight-month prison sentence from the Talansky retrial.

The five justice Supreme Court of Salim Joubran, Neal Hendel, Uzi Vogelman, Isaac Amit and Zvi Zylbertal upheld one of the two bribery convictions Olmert was handed by Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen.

That conviction related to a request by Olmert to Shmuel Duchner for NIS 60,000 for his benefit through his confidantes Shula Zaken and Uri Messer.

At the same time, by a 4-1 vote with Joubran dissenting, the Supreme Court tossed Rozen’s conviction of Olmert on the larger conviction of him having allegedly requested that Duchner give NIS 500,000 to the former prime minister’s brother, Yossi Olmert.

The Holyland trial involved 16 defendants, 13 of whom were convicted of participating in the biggest bribery scheme in the state’s history, including eight (along with Olmert) sentenced by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The other seven were: former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, former Bank Hapoalim chairman Danny Dankner, former Jerusalem chief engineer Uri Sheetrit, former Jerusalem deputy mayor Eli Simhayoff, Holyland Complex owner Hillel Charney, Holyland Park founder Avigdor Kelner and bribery middleman Meir Rabin.

Olmert’s former top aide Zaken previously was sentenced separately to 11 months in prison in a plea-bargain deal in which she turned state’s witness against him in the Talansky retrial case. She already has served her time and been released.

Most of the defendants were powerful Jerusalem public servants who took bribes to smooth over legal and zoning obstacles for the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem.

Head State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan late Tuesday responded to the decision with a special press conference, stating: “Something fell on Israel today. A former prime minister was convicted unanimously by the Supreme Court and his sentence was set and he will be sent to jail for 18 months.

“From one perspective, this is a very sad day for the country.

From another, every citizen in Israel can be proud that he lives in a country where everyone is equal before the law. Every citizen is equal to the prime minister. If a former prime minister fails and commits an offense, he will get punished for it and if the court decides, he will be sent to serve time behind prison walls,” he said. “There are not many countries like this and I am proud to live in a country that can issue this kind of decision. Any convicted person can say 1,000 times that I never received a bribe.

The court decides if a person received or did not receive, and the court said its word.” He did not comment on the reduction of the sentence.

Regarding the bribery conviction upheld by the court, Joubran endorsed Rozen’s finding that Zaken was Olmert’s right hand.

Further, he recounted Zaken’s testimony, which, while contradictory about certain aspects of the NIS 60,000, essentially proved that she had told Olmert about receiving the funds from Duchner.

With regard to the striking of Olmert’s conviction regarding the NIS 500,000 bribe, the four justices in the majority focused on whether he was aware that Duchner gave the funds to Yossi Olmert to curry favor with the former prime minister.

According to a range of scenarios reviewed by Hendel, Duchner could have given the funds to Yossi on his own initiative, hoping that Ehud would learn of it from Yossi, but without that necessarily happening in real time.

In this and other scenarios, one could not hold the former prime minister culpable for bribery, Hendel wrote.

Leaning more toward convicting Olmert on the NIS 500,000 bribery charge, but still ultimately voting with Hendel and the majority, Vogelman wrote that: “Realistically, it is more reasonable to find that Olmert wanted to help his brother Yossi, and referred him to Duchner so that he would give him funds... but the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this is what happened. This is the burden placed on them in a criminal proceeding.”

Amit approached the acquittal on the NIS 500,000 bribery charge more forcefully and more defensively.

“At first, intuition naturally brings about the conclusion that it is not reasonable that Olmert did not know that Duchner... was the source behind the transferring of funds to his brother Yossi.

Because if not, why would Duchner pay Yossi?” However, seemingly rebuking Rozen’s method of analysis in convicting him on the NIS 500,000 charge, Amit warned against judges thinking and deciding cases this way because intuition is not enough if it “is not left clear of doubt.”

Amit also urged jurists to stick to their legal principles and ignore “the public or a portion of it” that may be “disappointed or surprised by Olmert’s acquittal of the main accusation.”

The public’s faith in the court, he said, “derives especially from the knowledge that the court decides according to the law and the evidence” and jurists should not seek to endear themselves to knee-jerk public reactions.

In the Holyland trial, which started in July 2012, he was originally accused of accepting more than NIS 1.5 million in bribes (out of some NIS 9m.

given to public officials in total), either directly or through Zaken or his brother, to smooth over various legal and zoning obstacles. The allegations relate to the period from 1993 to the early 2000s while he was mayor of Jerusalem and industry, trade and labor minister.

According to Duchner, who turned main state witness, the Holyland project originally was approved only for building on 25,000 m. of land, but 311,000 m. eventually were approved for construction thanks to the bribes.

In January 2013, the prosecution added to the strength of Duchner’s charges of bribes he paid to Olmert’s brother (who did not testify until May 2013), when it called Morris Talansky to testify that Olmert had similarly convinced him to pay $30,000 to Yossi in 2004.

Olmert’s team, however, then cornered Duchner into admitting that some of his allegations were made up to sweeten the case and that even some documents he presented, were forged for the same purpose.

The former prime minister’s lawyers caught him in a dramatic moment, showing that he had done a messy photocopy job in combining unrelated documents when they showed that a telephone number on one document did not exist on the date the document was allegedly drafted.



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