An Israeli court Tuesday sentenced ex-premier Ehud Olmert to six years in prison for bribery, making him the most senior politician in the country’s history to face jail for corruption.
Tel Aviv district court judge David Rosen also handed Olmert a fine of one million shekels ($290,000/210,000 euros) for his involvement in one of Israel’s worst-ever corruption scandals, a transcript of the verdict said.
His lawyer, Eli Zohar, told reporters outside the courtroom that his client would appeal.
“You heard what Ehud Olmert said at the pre-sentence hearings. He did not take a bribe, did not receive a bribe and as far as he feels he still sees himself as innocent.”
“With us he will go to the Supreme Court to appeal.”
The 68-year-old, who was convicted six weeks ago on two charges of taking bribes, is the first former prime minister of Israel looking at a prison term for corruption.
“This is someone who stood at the pinnacle, the defendant served as prime minister of Israel,” Rosen said.
“From the highest and most respected post… he fell to the level of someone convicted of contemptible crimes,” the judge said in passing sentence Tuesday.
“A public official who accepts bribes is tantamount to a traitor,” he said, adding a finding of “moral turpitude” — moral unfitness to hold public office.
Following a two-year trial, Olmert was convicted on March 31 of bribes to the tune of 560,000 shekels (now $160,000/116,000 euros) with the judge also saying he had committed perjury.
Even after his conviction, Olmert protested his innocence, saying he had never taken bribes. His lawyers were expected to appeal the sentence.
Rosen said the prison sentence would begin on September 1.
“It is a difficult day when a former prime minister is sentenced,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who served as Olmert’s deputy premier and foreign minister, told reporters.
“I have complete trust in the court and law enforcement officials, and the public should as well.”
The trial of Olmert and 15 other defendants, which lasted more than two years, was linked to the construction of Jerusalem’s massive Holyland residential complex when Olmert served as the city’s mayor.
In 2010, Olmert was named the key suspect in what came to be known as the Holyland affair on suspicion he received hundreds of thousands of shekels for helping developers get the project past various legal and planning obstacles.
The towering construction project, which dominates the city’s skyline, is seen as a major blot on the landscape and widely reviled as a symbol of high-level corruption.
– ‘Not a regular criminal’ –
Wearing a royal blue shirt and khaki chinos, Olmert looked tired and subdued as he entered the court room.
Rosen described Olmert as “very bright” and “personable” but said he and a fellow city official also convicted of receiving bribes had worked to “line their own pockets” but were “not regular criminals”.
Olmert was fifth in line to be sentenced, with three earlier defendants convicted of giving bribes, receiving lower sentences than demanded by the prosecution.
But the city’s former engineer, who like Olmert accepted bribes, received seven years of jail time.
In July 2012, a Jerusalem court found Olmert guilty of breach of trust but cleared him on two more serious charges related to the alleged receipt of cash-stuffed envelopes and multiple billing for trips abroad.
He was fined $19,000 and given a suspended jail sentence for graft.
The conviction related to favours that Olmert granted a former colleague while serving as trade and industry minister.
Born south of the port city of Haifa, he was elected to parliament in 1973 and became mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003, after which he served as a cabinet minister, holding the trade and industry portfolio as well as several others.
He became premier in 2006, leading the centre-right Kadima party into government, but resigned in September 2008 after police recommended that he be indicted in several graft cases.