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Middle East

Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert jailed for six years for bribery

Judge condemns disgraced leader as a ‘traitor’ over payments taken from developers

The former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has been sentenced to six years in jail for accepting bribes that a judge described as a treason against the public he was meant to serve.

“A public servant who takes bribes is like someone who smashes a cornerstone,” Judge David Rozen said of Olmert and six other defendants in a bribery case considered to be one of the biggest corruption scandals in Israeli history.

The 68-year-old politician was convicted in March over a property deal that took place while he served as mayor of Jerusalem. “He who takes the bribe is a traitor – someone who betrays the trust of the public. Without this trust, there cannot be proper public service,” Judge Rozen added.

“Olmert served as Prime Minister of Israel. From this lofty and honoured job that is the most important one, he reached the position of someone convicted of crimes and offences that are contemptible and grave beyond measure.”

VIDEO: Olmert plans to appeal six-year sentence

Olmert was also fined one million shekels (£171,578) while six other businessmen, developers and Jerusalem council officials were sentenced to between three and seven years in prison. The former Prime Minister, who launched wars in Gaza and Lebanon in 2006 and 2008 but also tried to reach a peace deal with Palestinians, will begin his sentence on 1 September if appeals are not successful.

Olmert plans to appeal against the sentence and the conviction for taking bribes worth £96,000, most of it from developers advancing the Holyland project.

The developers built five apartment blocks and a tower that dominate southern Jerusalem’s skyline and are viewed as eyesores by residents. An agent for one developer wrote cheques for £85,750 to Olmert’s brother, Yosef. The judge also ruled that Olmert acted with “moral turpitude” which prevents him from running for public office for seven years after his jail term.

Israel has a number of low-security prisons where inmates such as Olmert are jailed. The major factor determining where he will go will be security and the concern that other prisoners could harm him, officials said.

He may end up at Hermon prison in northern Israel where the former Finance Minister, Avraham Hirschson, also served a sentence for corruption. Other convicted ministers and politicians, including Omri Sharon, the son of the late premier Ariel Sharon, spent their sentences in a low-security unit near Tel Aviv.

Hermon jail and two others have programmes for criminals convicted of engaging in fraud that include meetings with a social worker, group work and drama. But such inmates have the same conditions as other prisoners and serve together with those convicted of other offences.

Israel’s prison services commissioner, Aharon Franco, said Olmert would be assessed like all other convicts for risk of escape, that he could be attacked by other inmates or attempt suicide. “We will analyse the personality and deliberate together with our professionals and the relevant actors,” Mr Franco said.

Amir Dan, Olmert’s media adviser, described the sentence as “deviating from all the norms for people in similar jobs and in similar situations”. He added: “This punishment is based on a judgment that is totally mistaken. It is a tower of cards built on assumptions. It is severe punishment of a man who never took bribes and contributed greatly to the state of Israel. He will appeal.”

The sentencing was praised as showing that even a former premier could be held to account. But Nachum Barnea, a columnist for the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper, warned there was “no reason to celebrate”. He wrote that Olmert had a lot of credits as Prime Minister, including “a sincere effort to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, an effort that greatly strengthened Israel’s standing in the world”.

He added that Olmert’s government did not shy away from difficult decisions, saying: “Olmert is a convicted criminal and will remain so until at least the end of his appeal in the supreme court, but he is not the devil.”