Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years prison for taking bribes while in office. He issued a statement before the 9 a.m. sentencing, saying that it was “a sad day, on which a severe and unjust verdict is to be handed down to an innocent man.” Mr. Olmert promised to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The construction of a real estate project called Holyland during Mr. Olmert’s time as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 was at the center of the case against him. Nine other former government officials and business moguls were convicted alongside him and seven of them received prison sentences of three to seven years. Mr. Olmert is the most prominent former Israeli leader to be sentenced to prison on corruption charges. The judge who sentenced him likened him to a traitor.
Judge David Rozen of Tel Aviv District Court made it clear that no leader would escape the law. Gad Barzilai, dean of the law faculty at the University of Haifa said, “It’s proof that Israel does have an ambitious, independent, courageous judiciary, and this is very important for any democracy. For the Israeli politicians, it’s a red light. The court is saying, ‘Listen guys, we know that you have temptations to do criminal acts, we are going to punish you, we are not going to be intimidated.’ ”
Up until his March conviction, Mr. Olmert had been openly planning a political comeback, eviscerating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in speeches abroad and touting his qualifications as the person to unseat him. Mr. Olmert helped create the centrist Kadima Party in 2005. The political and legal establishment of the country was stunned by the stiff sentence. Prosecutors’ anticorruption crusades are often condemned as overzealous and inefficient.
Mr. Olmert’s expensive appetites were well known among Israel’s top political and financial echelon. He was also known as a very effective politician. Mr. Olmert was on the brink of a peace deal with the Palestinians when he was forced from office. Anshel Pfeffer, columnist at the Israeli daily Haaretz, said, “He combines everything, power and intelligence. He really was untouchable. He’s very talented, very charming, and also very corrupted. He could have been Israel’s best prime minister. Now he’ll be remembered as Israel’s worst.”