Olmert free to run for office after escaping prison term

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The Independent Online

The former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been handed a one-year suspended prison sentence and fined for his role in a corruption case that forced him from office – a relatively light punishment that could clear the way for a political comeback.

Olmert, 66, who had faced the possibility of jail time or community service, was ordered only to pay an $18,000 fine. By avoiding the stiffer penalties, the former leader is now eligible to run for parliament, though he remains barred from serving in a Cabinet post while he faces another corruption trial.

He has not said whether he wants to seek office again, but confidants say Olmert is certainly considering it. In the coming months, he will remain preoccupied with a separate trial for his alleged role in a Jerusalem real estate bribery case. Nonetheless, yesterday's sentencing was a clear victory for the former premier. "I walk out of here with my head held high," he told reporters.

Olmert was forced out of office nearly four years ago under the cloud of scandal, accused of accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from an American political supporter and allegedly double billing supporters for overseas trips. But in July, the court cleared him of those serious allegations, convicting him only on the lesser charge of breach of trust for helping allocate government contracts to a friend's associates.

In his decision yesterday, the Jerusalem court judge told Olmert: "It was a very clear conflict of interest. It was a breach of trust, and we must relate to it in the harshest of terms."

But afterward, with it clear he had avoided a harsher sentence, Olmert smiled and embraced his lawyers.