NORWAY - President Shimon Peres commented on the jail sentence handed down to former prime minister Ehud Olmert Tuesday for his role in the Holyland corruption affair, saying that at a personal level it was a sad day, but praised the legal system.
His comments were echoed by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich.
Olmert was sentenced to six years in prison and fined NIS 1 million in court in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning for his role in the 'Holyland Affair', the real estate corruption case considered the largest of its kind in Israeli history.
"This is the legal process which is custom in democratic states," said the president, currently in Norway. "Personally, this is a sad day. But the legal process was untouched by personal interests," the president concluded.
For first time, ex-prime minister sentenced to jail (Photo: Yotam Ronen
Before becoming president, Peres was a senior member of the Kadima party, playing an activle role alongside Olmert in the party's formation and first years, following Ariel Sharon's departure from political life in wake of a massive stroke-induced coma; and served as Ministr for the Development of the Negev and Galilee when Olmert was prime minister.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid commented on the jail sentence, and said "the day a former prime minister is sent to jail is a sad day for democracy, and sad for me at a personal level."
However, Lapid backed the legal system and said "nonetheless, this is an important day for the justice system, which once again showed no one is above the law."
Opposition and Labor Chairman Isaac Herzog commented also said "it is a sad day for those who know (Olmert) personally for many years."
However, Herzog nonetheless praised the sentence and said it "proves that in Israel there is a free and independent justice system and that everyone is equal in the face of the law."
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also responded to the jail sentence, saying "it is a difficult day when a former prime minister is sentenced. I have complete trust in the court and law enforcement officials, and the public should as well." Livni also served as a minister in Olmert's government.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said "this is a sad and difficult day for the State of Israel, and obviously for him," he said of Olmert. "Nonetheless, the battle against public corruption is of the utmost importance."
Speaking at a conference on internal security in Jerusalem, Aharonovich also expressed his support of law enforcement, saying "I unequivocally support the police in their attempt to quell corruption in the public service, at any level it takes place."
The Bayit Yehdui party also commented on Olmert's sentence, saying "this is a sad day for the citizens of Israel, but an important day for the State of Israel which has shown once again that there is no favoritism, even to the most senior of its citizens. This is a day in which everyone must do some soul searching."
The case marks the first time a prime minister was convicted of a felony and now, with his sentencing, the first time a former prime minister has ever been sentenced to jail time.
Tel Aviv Court Judge David Rosen convicted Olmert at the end of March of two charges of bribery, and said he accepted NIS 560,000 ($160,000) from developers of the Holyland project of in Jerusalem at the time he served as the capital's mayor.
Regarding the entire affair, 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."
Additional sentencing included 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 during Tuesday's sentencing. Dankner, who is now the joint chairman of Israel Salt Industries, was also fined a million and half shekel.
Avigdor Kelner, also a developer in the project, who was convicted of two corruption charge in the affair, was sentenced to three years and fined NIS 1 million.
Former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who succeeded Olmert as the city's mayor, and Dankner, were both charged and convicted of offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to a government official to rezone land for the project.
Naama Cohen-Friedman, Itamar Eichner, Omri Efraim and Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report