Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has been sentenced to eight months in jail for unlawfully accepting money from a US supporter, capping the dramatic downfall of a man who once led the country and hoped to bring about a historic peace deal with the Palestinians.
Olmert, 69, was convicted in March in a retrial in Jerusalem District Court. Yesterday’s sentencing follows a six-year prison term he received last year for a separate bribery conviction, ensuring the end of the former premier’s political career.
Olmert’s lawyer, Eyal Rozovsky, said the ex-PM’s legal team was “very disappointed” by the ruling and would appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.
The former premier was also given a suspended sentence of an additional eight months and fined the equivalent of £16,000.
A slew of character witnesses had vouched for Olmert, including former British prime minister Tony Blair and former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan in written statements.
The verdict stated that it recognised Olmert’s vast contributions to Israeli society and sentenced him to less than the prosecution had demanded. Still, it ruled that “a black flag hovers over his conduct”.
He was forced to resign in early 2009 amid the corruption allegations. His departure cleared the way for hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu’s election, and subsequent peace efforts have not succeeded.
Olmert was acquitted in 2012 on a series of charges that included accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from US businessman Morris Talansky when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and a cabinet minister. He was found to have received about £400,000 from Mr Talansky during his term as mayor, and additional amounts in cash during his term as a cabinet minister, but a court did not find evidence the money had been used for unlawful personal reasons or illegal campaign financing.
Mr Talansky, an Orthodox Jew from New York’s Long Island, had testified the money was spent on expensive cigars, first-class travel and luxury hotels, while insisting he received nothing in return.
The acquittal on the most serious charges was seen at the time as a major victory for Olmert, who denied being corrupt. He was convicted only on a lesser charge of breach of trust for steering job appointments and contracts to clients of a business partner, and it raised hopes for his political comeback.
But Olmert’s former office manager and confidante Shula Zaken later became a state’s witness, offering diary entries and tape recordings of conversations with Olmert about illicitly receiving cash, leading to a retrial. In the recordings, Olmert is heard telling Ms Zaken not to testify in the first trial so she would not incriminate him.
The judges concluded Olmert had given Ms Zaken part of the money in exchange for her loyalty, and used the cash for his own personal use without reporting it according to law. They convicted him on a serious charge of illicitly receiving money, as well as charges of fraud and breach of trust.
In a separate trial in March last year, Olmert was convicted of bribery over a Jerusalem real estate scandal and was sentenced to six years in prison. He appealed and has been allowed to stay out of prison until a verdict is delivered.
When he resigned as prime minister, Israel and the Palestinians had been engaged in more than a year of intense negotiations over the terms of Palestinian independence.