Olmert: I leave court today standing tall

Former PM receives suspended sentence, NIS 75,300 fine for breach of public trust.

Olmert, Zaken 370 (photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
Olmert, Zaken 370
(photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that he was leaving court with his head held high after avoiding a six-month community service sentence in a conviction for breach of public trust. The court sentenced him to a one-year suspended sentence and fined him NIS 75,300.
“A few weeks ago I told the judges that I wanted to leave court standing tall, and today I leave court standing tall,” Olmert said at a brief press conference following the sentencing hearing in the Investment Center Affair.
“I said I would learn the lessons of the conviction,” Olmert added.
The sentencing is for the one minor crime of which Olmert was convicted in his Jerusalem District Court corruption trial – breach of public trust in the Investment Center Affair.
The suspended sentence is conditional, meaning Olmert would only have to serve prison time if he committed a similar crime in the next three years.
The ruling once again shocked pundits, who believed that Olmert had achieved a major victory by his acquittals and avoidance of the state seeking a conviction of moral turpitude, but that there was no way out of at least six months of community service as the most lenient penalty when his crime could even have carried prison time.
The Investment Center Affair involved Olmert improperly using his position as industry, trade and labor minister to favor friends and allies, most notably long-time friend and aide Uri Messer.
Reading their 27-page ruling in the sentencing, the judges noted that Olmert improperly favored Messer four times.
But at the same time, as a lenient consideration, the judges noted that neither Olmert himself nor Messer directly benefitted from Olmert’s actions, rather Messer’s clients benefitted.
Early on in reading the sentencing opinion, the court noted that breach of public trust was not a mere “technical” violation as some have termed it.
Rather, the court said it was a real crime and a crime particularly applicable to public servants. Olmert was acquitted in July of all serious crimes involving significant prison time in a host of affairs.
At oral argument three weeks ago, the state had recommended the court hand down a six-month prison sentence to be served through community service.
Olmert had said that having to give up his position as prime minister and four years of harrying litigation and inquisitions were penalties far greater than six months of community service.
He said that, therefore, he should be given no penalty and be left with his conviction.
Ultimately, the court mostly adopted Olmert’s arguments, concluding its opinion regarding Olmert with extended remarks about the special circumstances of having been forced to give up being prime minister and of his 35 years of service to the nation.
In some ways as shocking – or even more shocking from a legal perspective – was the lenient sentence of Shula Zaken.
The court gave former Olmert bureau chief Shula Zaken a mere nine-month suspended sentence. Zaken also received no prison time, despite being convicted of three crimes, two involving fraud.
Olmert’s lenient sentence was slightly more understandable from a legal perspective having not been convicted of fraud, but only breach of public trust. Fraud is a more severe crime and could have carried a much longer prison sentence.
The state had also surprised the country three weeks ago in sidestepping the issue of moral turpitude and suggesting to the court that the issue could be left on the back burner until and if Olmert ever decides to make a political comeback.
A finding of moral turpitude would have essentially ended Olmert’s political career since it prohibits participation in politics for seven years and Olmert will turn 67 on September 30.