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Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert starts prison sentence

In a video statement, Ehud Olmert acknowledged that he had “made mistakes,” but he insisted that he had done nothing criminal.Gali Tibbon/Reuters/Pool/File 2015

JERUSALEM — Describing his fall as “painful and strange,” Ehud Olmert became Monday the first former Israeli prime minister to enter prison, beginning a 19-month term for bribery and obstruction of justice.

In a video released by his office shortly before the armored car carrying him swept through the prison gates, Olmert, who was convicted in 2014, acknowledged that he had “made mistakes,” but he insisted that he had done nothing criminal.

“At this time, I want to say again what I said inside the court and outside: that I categorically deny the charges relating to bribery attributed to me,” Olmert, 70, said.


Looking somber and fatigued as he described his transformation from leader to convicted prisoner, he said: “I accept the sentence with a very heavy heart. Nobody stands above the law.”

Other high-ranking Israelis have been convicted of crimes, including a former Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, who is serving a seven-year sentence for rape; an interior minister convicted of bribery; and a finance minister convicted of embezzlement.

Israeli television broadcast live coverage of Olmert’s arrival at Maasiyahu Prison, southeast of Tel Aviv. According to prison regulations, he was permitted, like other prisoners, to take with him four pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, two towels, bedding, and toiletries, among other items.

Olmert’s legal troubles began in 2008, two years after he took office, and he was forced to resign under a growing cloud of suspicion and police investigations. He was convicted of taking bribes while he was mayor of Jerusalem, in part to facilitate the construction of a large housing complex known as Holyland, despite fierce local opposition.

In late December, the Israeli Supreme Court reduced his six-year prison sentence to 18 months after overturning the main part of his conviction on bribery charges. It upheld, however, his conviction in a lesser bribery case that was unrelated to the housing project.


Last week, a Jerusalem magistrate’s court extended Olmert’s sentence by a month after rejecting the terms of a plea bargain in an obstruction-of-justice case.

Olmert was also sentenced in May to eight months in prison for fraud and breach of trust, in a separate case involving an American businessman, Morris Talansky. The start of that term was postponed pending an appeal, and Olmert’s lawyers have been examining the possibility of any sentence being served concurrently with Olmert’s current prison term.

Olmert emphasized in his statement that none of the charges pertained to his time as prime minister, and he appealed to Israelis not to forget his efforts at peacemaking and his service to the country.

As prime minister, Olmert held extensive peace negotiations with the Palestinians and indirect talks with Syria, through Turkish mediators. He hinted darkly in his videotaped statement on Monday that his conviction, which he described as a result of a “legal snowball,” grew out of something more than legal considerations.

“Perhaps with more distance, the public will be able to examine this dire moment with a critical and balanced outlook,” he said. “I hope that then they will recognize that during my tenure as prime minister, honest and promising steps were taken to open a door of hope for a better future of peace, happiness, and security.”