Parole board announces: Ex-PM Olmert to be released from jail

Prosecution mulling appeal; Olmert’s Attorney, “We hope that this will be the end of this 10-year story.”

Ehud Olmert (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ehud Olmert
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The parole board decided on Thursday to cut former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s prison sentence by a third, for good behavior, despite opposition from state prosecutors, and despite a new probe into alleged leaking of classified documents by Olmert. The ex-prime minister is scheduled to be released on Sunday morning, after the state prosecution said it would not appeal the decision.
Olmert, 71, has served 16 months of a 27-month sentence at Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle, for a series of bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice offenses. More recently, the attorney-general authorized a preliminary probe into alleged state secrets being leaked while Olmert wrote a 1,000-page memoir from prison.
In its ruling on Thursday, the six-member parole board panel said the Prisons Service was fully aware that Olmert was writing a book and hundreds of pages of the manuscript were transferred to and from prison beginning in November 2016, and that the Prisons Service did not try to prevent such transfers until mid-May. “The prison authorities could have stopped the movement of the materials from the prison if they wanted,” the decision said, adding that Olmert should not be held solely responsible for a failure of enforcement.
The judges also said that Olmert’s behavior in prison was “impeccable,” except for one case in which he said something inappropriate to a guard and was punished.
“Olmert received the decision with happiness and excitement,” his attorney Eli Zohar told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “We hope that this will be the end of this 10-year story.”
The heart of Olmert’s argument for early release was that most convicts are released by the time they have served two-thirds of their sentence, assuming they did not commit a violent crime, which he did not.
Former premier Olmert, just before entering jail: "I did not take bribes"
Olmert’s lawyers have argued that as the first prime minister to go behind bars, he has suffered uniquely and served his time for financial crimes that, in the final analysis, only represented a small part of what he was originally accused of.
The prosecution opposed the early release request on a number of grounds, including that Olmert is the subject of a preliminary review for the documents affair. According to leaks of a previous parole board hearing published by Channel 2, the State Attorney’s Office argued that it has “discovered criminal patterns” in the memoir probe, and attacked Olmert for seeking to profit from his book. A full criminal investigation has yet to been opened into the former prime minister.
However, the state prosecution decided on Thursday evening that there was “no basis” for filing an appeal, and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit accepted its recommendation.
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni called the parole board’s decision “fitting,” on Twitter. MK Shelly Yacimovich, also from the Zionist Union, tweeted that she was not against or in favor of Olmert’s release, but rather annoyed by the “obsessive attention” paid to the fate of a “criminal from the elite.”
A lawyer by training, Olmert began his political career in the 1970s as a right-wing Likud lawmaker who targeted organized crime. As prime minister, Olmert waged war against Hezbollah in the First Lebanon War in July-August 2006 and Hamas in the Gaza Strip in Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009.
After one of his attorneys was detained in May with allegedly classified documents following a meeting with Olmert, Mandelblit authorized a preliminary probe.
Olmert’s attorney said his client has never leaked classified documents and “does not require any seal of approval as to his connection and responsibility for subjects that are related to Israel’s national security.”
The ex-prime minister was convicted of crimes in three matters: The Holyland Affair, involving bribes from real estate developers during his term as Jerusalem mayor (2006-2009); illegally receiving envelopes of cash from New York businessman Morris Talansky between 1993 and 2002; and seeking to obstruct the testimony of his former longtime bureau chief Shula Zaken.
Olmert returned to prison on Tuesday after being hospitalized for chest pains. Following a leaked photo of gaunt-looking Olmert in a hospital gown, Education Minister Naftali Bennett called for his release. “Despite our differences of opinion, there is no disputing his decisive contribution to Israeli security in a series of courageous decisions. The time has come to have mercy on him,” Bennett said.
Yonah Jeremy Bob and Reuters contributed to this report.