For the first time in Israel’s history, a court on Tuesday sentenced former prime minister Ehud Olmert to six years in prison for his involvement in a real estate project, considered the largest in the country.
The disgraced former premier, who had to resign after a series of allegations of graft started to come to light, was also fined USD 300,000 by a Tel Aviv court for his role in the ‘Holyland Affair’, so called after the name of the project.
Judge David Rosen had convicted 68-year-old Olmert at the end of March of two charges of bribery, and said he accepted USD 160,000 from developers of the Holyland project in Jerusalem at the time when he served as the capital’s Mayor.
The judge said, “those who give bribes are corrupt, but those who receive it inspire disgrace and cause the public to lose faith in the State. A public servant who accepts bribes is equivalent to a traitor.”
Rosen further noted that the graft charges Olmert was convicted of include moral turpitude.
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The court ruled that the seven jail sentences handed out to people involved in the scandal would begin on the first of September and fines should be paid out in 10 payments.
Olmert spoke in court reiterating his denial of the allegations regarding his role in the affair.
He said the “conviction was a shock for me. I knew it was based on a fundamental mistake, which is just wrong”.
“I am proud,” Olmert stressed, “of the decade in which I ran the honest city (Jerusalem)”.
“The right path is to appeal the decision and turn to the High Court. I believe it will make the effort to see the whole picture and reach the conclusion that I never took any bribe,
not directly and not indirectly, not for my affiliates and not for my family – that is the truth,” he emphasised.
Olmert, an attorney who in 1973 became the youngest person ever elected to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009.
Others sentenced include Hillel Cherney, who was the developer behind the Holyland project and was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and fined NIS 2 million.
Cherney was convicted of 19 offences of corruption and a slew of additional corruption and break of trust offences.
Danny Dankner, the former chairman of Israel’s second- biggest bank, also received three years in jail.
The other high-profile person sentenced in the case is former Jerusalem Mayor, Uri Lupolianski, who succeeded Olmert as the city’s Mayor.
Lupolianski and Dankner were charged and convicted of offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to a government official to rezone land for the project.
As per local media reports, Olmert used the money to pay the debts of his brother Yossi and close personal debts he acquired during his election campaigns, which were paid to his assistant Shula Zaken, who weeks before the end of the trial became a witness for the prosecution in a plea bargain deal.
Judge Rosen is expected to reject Zaken’s plea bargain on the claim that the testimony of Olmert’s brother was the one that incriminated the former Prime Minister.