The Supreme Court on Tuesday partially accepted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's appeal of his 2014 bribery conviction, acquitting him of receiving a NIS 500,000 bribe but upholding his conviction for accepting NIS 60,000 and reducing his prison sentence from six years to 18 months.
The verdict brings an end to what may be the largest corruption case in Israel's history and makes the ex-leader the first prime minister to go to jail. He is to begin serving his sentence on February 15.
Following the verdict, Olmert gave a statement to the press, declaring that he had never accepted any bribes, but respected the decision of the justices to uphold his conviction for the lesser charge. He likened the Holyland affair to "an irritating, onerous black cloud" and said a great weight had been lifted with the acquittal in that case.
Olmert was given a six-year sentence and NIS 1 million fine in 2014 for receiving some NIS 500,000 in bribes through his brother in the Holyland real estate corruption affair during his tenure as Jerusalem mayor before becoming prime minister. He also had NIS 560,000 in assets seized.
The five justices who made the ruling on Tuesday – Salim Joubran, Neal Hendel, Uzi Vogelman, Isaac Amit and Zvi Zilbertal – had several options on the table. They could have rejected the appeal in toto, reaffirming the existing sentence. Another scenario was acceptance of the appeal, in which case Olmert would have avoided prison. A third option wasthat the justices would uphold the conviction but agree to decrease the sentence. The fourth option was the one that ended up transpiring – accepting the appeal for only some charges.
Much of the original indictment in the case was based on testimony by state witness Shmuel Dachner, who died in 2013 before defense attorneys had the opportunity to cross-examine him – which Olmert has made the central issue in his appeal.
Olmert was forced to resign as prime minister in 2009 amid a flurry of corruption allegations. The Tel Aviv district court handed down Olmert's verdict in 2014. A total of 13 government officials, developers and other businesspeople were charged in three separate schemes. Others convicted included former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and Danny Dankner, the former chairman of Israel's Bank Hapoalim, Israel's second-biggest bank. Lupolianski's conviction was upheld on Tuesday, but his sentence was commuted to six months of community service beacuse of his poor health.
Olmert's brother Yossi implicated the ex-prime minister during the trial by confirming he had received some NIS 500,000 – money that Olmert's former aide Shula Zaken claimed the prime minister knew was a bribe. The former prime minister was also convicted of accepting NIS 60,000 for a separate project.