Will Ehud Olmert be sentenced to a long prison term for his bribery conviction?

Legal experts agree that the state is likely to seek several years in prison for Olmert following his conviction in the Holyland affair; the fact that he has served in high government positions may work against him.

Olmert looking concerned 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post )
Olmert looking concerned 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post )
With the conviction of Ehud Olmert Monday for bribery, attention will now turn to whether or not the former prime minister will serve time in prison for his crimes, and if so, how much time.
Judge David Rozen said, at the conclusion of the reading of the verdict against Olmert and nine others in the Holyland trial in Tel Aviv District Court on Monday, that sentencing arguments in the case would begin in less than a month, on April 28.
The likely maximum sentence for bribery as it pertains to Olmert in the Holyland case is seven years. The maximum sentence for bribery has been changed to ten years in recent years; however, it was seven years at the time the crime was committed.
Legal precedent suggests that the state will take this into account.
Prof. Emanuel Gross, a legal expert at the University of Haifa, said that he expected the state would seek a long prison sentence for Olmert, as is standard for those convicted of bribery.
Gross surmised that the state would seek a long sentence, relative to the maximum allowed for bribery, given that this is one of the most serious crimes that someone has been convicted of while in public service. He said that the fact that Olmert took bribes while he was mayor of Jerusalem and a minister, along with the fact that he later became prime minister, were likely to lead the state to seek a harsher sentence.
“You expect these people to exemplify integrity, and if, of all people, our leaders are corrupt, then the fitting punishment is several years in prison,” Gross said.
Gross compared Olmert’s case to those of Arye Deri and Shlomo Benizri, both ministers convicted of bribery who were sentenced to three and four years in prison respectively.
“[Olmert] is a much more senior figure,” Gross said. “It is reasonable that the state would request punishment for him that is at the least equal, if not more severe.”
Senior Israeli defense attorney Yair Golan said that judging by the severity of Monday’s verdict, it was clear that the state would seek a relatively long prison sentence – especially given the high profile of the Holyland Affair and the large sums of money involved in the bribes.
Golan said that the fact that Olmert and the other nine defendants who were convicted Monday held senior positions in society would not be to their benefit in sentencing.
“It’s a double-edged sword: the more senior a person’s position is in the leadership, the more the public expects from him, and if he falls, he falls hard,” Golan said.
He added that Rozen, who delivered Monday’s verdict and is responsible for sentencing, is not considered lenient in his doling out of punishments.
Golan said that Olmert’s legal team is likely to say during sentencing arguments that most of the money paid in bribes to advance the Holyland real estate project did not go to him personally.
They are also likely to praise Olmert’s contributions to the state while in public service, Golan said.
Though experts believe that Olmert’s having been prime minister will hurt him in sentencing, it led to a more lenient sentence in his conviction for breach of public trust in the Jerusalem corruption trial in 2012.
In that case, Olmert 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.
The court mostly adopted Olmert’s arguments then, 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.
The court’s concluding paragraph described his fall as a tragedy for someone who had reached the highest office in the state.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.