Ex-Israeli PM Ehud Olmert slapped with six year prison sentence
Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen on Tuesday sentenced former prime minister Ehud Olmert to six years of prison time on conviction for two counts of bribery in the Holyland trial.
The prosecution had asked for a minimum sentence of six years in prison. Olmert's spokesperson has indicated that he will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
The judge also delayed the arrest and imprisonment of all of the Holyland defendants, including Olmert until September 1.
Rozen also imposed a fine of NIS 1 million while also ordering authorities to seize NIS 500,000 in funds accumulated by the former premier.
Olmert's lawyer Eli Zohar had 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 had been estimating that Olmert would likely get at least a few years in prison, and that his being prime minister would 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 noting his service to the state as one of the reasons for leniency.
The prosecution had further requested that Olmert, who was convicted on March 31, be fined NIS 1,347,000.
Zohar had 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.
Rozen said in his decision that the higher the public post of an individual the harsher the punishment for bribery should be.
The judge added that Olmert was an extremely talented man that made a great contribution to the state through his public service. Rozen said, however, that his hands were tied by law to certain set punishment guidelines without discretion.
Rozen said that Olmert was guilty of "moral turpitude," meaning that he would not be allowed to reenter politics for at least seven years.
Hillel Cherny, the key initiator behind the Holyland real estate project, who was convicted of bribing officials to advance the project, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on Tuesday.
The state had asked that Cherny be given nine years for his crimes.
Former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner was sentenced to three-and-a-half years prison for his involvement in the affair.
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 Cherny and Shmuel Duchner, who, before dying in March 2013, turned state's witness and was the backbone of the state'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 Minister of Infrastructure, Trade and Industry.
Other prominent defendants convicted include former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, former top aide Shula Zaken, Dankner and a line of other former Jerusalem officials.
Zaken will be sentenced on Thursday and Lupolianski and another former Jerusalem official, Avraham Penner, will be sentenced on June 9, but the other six defendants plus Olmert were all 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 he 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 fundraising, without her informing him.
Rozen said that Zaken even 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 had made it clear even before the sentence was announced that he will appeal to the Supreme Court.
At his pre-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 issues of legal interpretation.