Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen on Tuesday is to carry the heavy responsibility of pronouncing sentence on former prime minister Ehud Olmert for his conviction on two counts of bribery in the Holyland trial.
The prosecution has asked for a minimum sentence of six years in prison.
Olmert’s lawyer Eli Zohar asked the court to give him only community service and argued that even an extreme interpretation of Supreme Court precedent could not sustain a prison sentence longer than 18 months.
Experts have been estimating that Olmert will likely get at least a few years in prison, and that his being prime minister will not get him special treatment.
Still, on a separate prior and less serious conviction in his July 2012 Jerusalem corruption trial, Olmert received only community service, with the court citing his service to the state as one of the reasons for leniency.
The prosecution further requested that Olmert, who was convicted on March 31, be fined NIS 1,347,000.
Zohar asked the court to drop the fine since Olmert did not receive any bribes for himself, but Rozen appeared to disregard that distinction during arguments on the issue.
The Holyland real estate affair has been called the worst bribery and fraud scheme in the country’s history.
Of 13 prominent public officials and business leaders, 10 were convicted of bribery, money- laundering and other crimes on March 31.
At the center of the scheme were Hillel Cherny, who also is to be sentenced Tuesday, and Shmuel Duchner, who, before dying in March 2013, turned state’s witness and was the backbone of the prosecution’s case.
The two and others bribed officials in exchange for their smoothing over zoning and legal obstacles for the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem, mostly from the mid-1990s until a few years into the 2000s, when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and then infrastructure, trade and industry minister.
Other prominent defendants convicted include former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, former top aide Shula Zaken, former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner and a line of other former Jerusalem officials.
Zaken is set to be sentenced on Thursday and Lupolianski and another former Jerusalem official, Avraham Penner, on June 9, but the other six defendants plus Olmert are all to be sentenced together Tuesday.
Only days before the March 31 verdict, Zaken cut a plea bargain with the prosecution to help with new charges against Olmert in exchange for a “light” sentence of only 11 months, but Rozen has expressed skepticism whether her cooperation justifies reducing a sentence that could have been several years.
Lupolianski may get an extra light sentence due to his poor health.
While he was acquitted on multiple bribery charges, Olmert was convicted of some of the most serious bribery charges, including two separate charges of indirectly receiving bribes for NIS 60,000 via Zaken and confidante Uri Messer and NIS 500,000 via his brother Yossi, and the court rejected most of his defenses.
In its verdict, the court said that Zaken had been Olmert’s “right hand.”
It added that it was not believable that she was receiving such large sums of money (the court said that it probably would have convicted Olmert of even larger sums, but some of the funds were outdated by the statute of limitations), some of which benefited his election fund-raising, without her informing him.
Rozen said that Zaken got convicted in the prior Jerusalem corruption trial rather than testify against Olmert, showing how close and in tandem the two were.
On the NIS 500,000 in bribes given to Yossi Olmert, Ehud’s brother, to help pay off his debts, the court completely rejected Ehud’s story that he did not know that Duchner gave the money to Yossi.
The court added that there was no reason for Duchner to give Yossi money except at Ehud’s request, since they did not know each other.
Rozen said that Duchner was always careful to make sure sponsors like Olmert knew he had given bribes to secure their help with the Holyland project.
Olmert has made it clear that he will appeal to the Supreme Court.
At his sentencing hearing, instead of expressing regret to get a lenient sentence as Rozen recommended to the defendants, Olmert stared down the court and defiantly exclaimed that he had never taken a bribe of any kind, directly, indirectly, through allies or through family members.
An appeal could be a long-shot since much of the conviction rested on findings of fact and Rozen’s impression of the witnesses, with most judges loathing to reverse lower court rulings on such issues as opposed to those of legal interpretation.
A separate issue raised by Hebrew University of Jerusalem Prof. Barak Medina was when Olmert will be arrested – if he is sentenced to jail time.
According to the law, many prisoners can theoretically be taken into custody immediately upon sentencing.
To avoid such a situation, a convicted defendant must ask the court to postpone the sentence, for example due to an intention to appeal.
Medina said that obtaining a postponed sentence pending appeal was not automatic, though former president Moshe Katsav and other prominent individuals have gotten their sentences postponed pending appeal.
Katsav was sentenced to seven years in prison for rape on March 22, 2011, but was not arrested until December 7, 2011, one month after his appeal was rejected on November 10, 2011.
Olmert could potentially have a longer delay if the Supreme Court waits to decide his appeal until other cases against him are resolved.
The prosecution has already said it will seek to introduce evidence to overturn his acquittals in the July 2012 corruption trial involving the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs, a case already on appeal before the Supreme Court.
The evidence relates to an expected new indictment against Olmert based on allegations from Zaken that he illegally interfered with her cooperating with the prosecution in the July 2012 case and in the Holyland case.
Olmert has been questioned four times by police, including on Sunday, about the allegations, and some speculate that the new indictment is around the corner.
Most recent speculation has focused on allegations that associates of Olmert paid for Zaken’s legal defense fees in the July 2012 case, were ready to pay her fine for her conviction in that case and had otherwise assisted her financially, in return for her earlier refusing to cooperate with the state.
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