Former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
(photo credit: ELI MANDELBAUM)
It is now all but official.
In a short period of time, Israel will not only have a first-ever convicted prime minister, but Ehud Olmert will likely be its first-ever prime minister behind bars (unless he wins an expected but low probability appeal), and not for a short period.
The other prominent defendants in the Holyland bribery case, including former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner are also likely to serve substantial time (former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski may get off without prison time due to his health and that all of the “bribes” he received were actually given to Yad Sarah).
The state on Monday
asked the court to sentence Olmert to around six years, Lupolianski to about six years and Dankner to approximately seven years on their bribery convictions handed down March 31.
Often, Israeli judges give defendants shorter sentences than what the prosecution requests, with the prosecution “asking for the moon” in a process that is almost a negotiation.
But the problem for Olmert and the others is that Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen has already revealed a good deal of his hand.
The day of the convictions, Rozen criticized the state for offering Olmert’s former top aide Shula Zaken a “mere” 11 months in prison for cooperating with the state.
Even if he eventually approves the 11 months, that “lenient” sentence would be for cooperation, and the implication is that he would have given her far more prison time otherwise, and will give the other noncooperative defendants far more.
Another bad sign for Olmert and the others came Monday when defendant and Holyland project mastermind Hillel Cherny’s defense lawyer Giora Aderet responded to the state’s request to sentence him to at least nine years in prison, possibly far more.
Aderet implied that he would accept a maximum sentence of 3.5 years in prison (if he loses on appealing the conviction).
Cherny has essentially been convicted of being the bribery mastermind and that the nine years or more the state requested for him is more than the six years the state requested for Olmert.
But if Cherny is willing to take threeand- a-half years out of nine (and other defendants on Tuesday also asked for one to two years in prison), what is Olmert’s best case scenario out of six – maybe also one to two years? And that is the best case scenario, unless Rozen suddenly shows, for the first time in over 18 months, that he cares that Olmert is a former prime minister – like the Jerusalem District Court did that gave him only community service in a separate 2012 conviction.
Part of the reason the prosecution may be asking for maximum prison time (aside from sending a message to public servants about public corruption), and many are saying that the requests are near the top of what could be asked for, is that Judge Rozen’s verdict was so one-sided against the defendants, implying he had little sympathy for them.
Before all of this, it is also important to note that Rozen in the past sentenced a public official to six years in prison for corruption related offenses.
One small positive for the defendants from Rozen, was his statement that he would not add-up potential sentences on multiple counts to arrive at higher-estimates or potentially even double-digit sentences, implying that the sentences he renders will probably be somewhat less than what the state has asked for.
On that note, Rozen implied on Monday in a back-and-forth with Aderet, that Cherny at least could not claim that his situation was as “lenient” as the sixyear sentence in that case.
Again, it is unclear what that means for sure for other defendants like Olmert, but it does again signal that Rozen is not looking to be lenient with prison time.
Finally, Rozen gave Cherny a chance to get on his good side and get less jail time.
He told Cherny that if he came clean and explained that he had been corrupted by others, meaning that he had become corrupt, he would get a lighter sentence.
Cherny did not take the bait, but he was low key.
Olmert on Tuesday thundered away at the court for five minutes, as only a former prime minister could, about how completely wrong the verdict was.
Rozen for the first time in the trial was nearly speechless.
While Olmert’s sticking to his guns is key for his appeal and his legacy, he probably burned up any sympathy Rozen might have had.
So while Olmert and company still have a long-shot appeal, it is looking more likely that he will be sentenced to between one to six years in prison, with the others getting serious time as well.