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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former MK Naomi Blumenthal, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and bribery, will not go to jail after President Shimon Peres on Monday reduced her eight-month prison sentence to six months of community service plus a 12-month suspended sentence.
Peres did not change the NIS 75,000 fine that the court had imposed on Blumenthal as part of her punishment.
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The president's legal adviser, Yona Sheindorf, who heads the Presidential Pardons Department at Beit Hanassi, notified Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann of Peres's decision.
Sheindorf said that after weighing all the considerations, Peres concluded that not all the facts had been brought to the court's attention when it handed down its sentence.
He also decided to take note of Friedmann's recommendation that the sentence be eased. Friedmann issued a statement last week recommending that Blumenthal's sentence be reduced to six months and that she execute it in public service.
Others who supported the decision included Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and former president, Yitzhak Navon.
Peres said he took into consideration the recent death of Blumenthal's husband, Prof. Michael Blumenthal, whose declining health and eventual death, his family believed, was the result of watching his wife suffer and being unable to do anything to help her.
Peres said he was also conscious of the fact that Blumenthal had apologized and expressed remorse for the deeds for which she was charged and convicted. Blumenthal declared that she had acted inappropriately for a public figure.
Blumenthal was convicted in 2006 of paying for the rooms of several senior Likud Central Committee members in order to appeal for their support on the night before the committee voted for its slate of candidates for the 2003 Knesset elections. She then ordered her close aides, who were involved in the affair, to lie to the police. While the others said what she had told them to, she refused to answer police questions.
Peres said he gave serious consideration to the arguments of those who were opposed to having Blumenthal's sentence reduced, but in the final analysis decided that the arguments for clemency outweighed those against.
"The Blumenthal family is happy and satisfied with the decision to ease her sentence and is grateful for the president's decision," said Michal Karmi, Blumenthal's spokeswoman.
Haifa University Professor Emmanuel Gross said that by reducing Blumenthal's sentence so she did not have to go to jail, Peres and Friedmann had broken the vital principle that all were equal before the law.
"There are many others seeking to have their sentences reduced, but they don't enjoy the public relations or the connections with politicians that Blumenthal does," said Gross.
He added that the court had not sentenced her to eight months in jail by chance, but because it knew that she would have to go to jail and serve the time. He said she was guilty of serious actions such as her invocation of the right to remain silent and refusal to answer the questions of police throughout her investigation. As a result of her behavior, her driver, Avi Oski, who was one of those who told police the story she had concocted, was jailed for a long period. Eventually, Oski turned state's witness, enabling the prosecution to charge her with obstructing justice.
Gross also said the court had been aware of Blumenthal's husband's illness during the trial and took it into account when it sentenced her to eight months in jail.