Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert found guilty of taking bribes


Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert hugs a woman while waiting to hear the verdict in his trial at the Tel Aviv District Court on March 31. (Dan Balilty/Pool/Reuters)

An Israeli court convicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert of taking about $140,000 in bribes from real estate developers when he served as mayor of Jerusalem, a ruling that effectively dashes any hopes Olmert had for returning to high office.

The conviction Monday was splashy news in Israel, and although the legal proceedings had dragged on for two years, it still came as a surprise to many to learn that, for the first time, a former prime minister may be heading to prison.

Olmert, 68, a political centrist, had hinted that he would like to run for top office again, and many political analysts here said that if anyone could have put together a center-left coalition to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it was Olmert.

Now his political life is over.

Now his political obituary has gone to press.

“There is no coming back from this, even if his appeal is successful,” said Tamir Sheafer, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Olmert, who will be sentenced at a later hearing, faces 10 years in prison. His attorney said Olmert will appeal.

Olmert’s conviction leaves the Israeli center-left without a major figure who could win enough votes to unseat Netanyahu.

Olmert was one of 13 defendants in the case, which centered on the construction of a hilltop luxury high-rise apartment complex in south Jerusalem called Holyland Park, which critics consider an oversize eyesore.

Announcing the verdict in a Tel Aviv courtroom, Judge David Rosen said that Olmert had lied to the court and that the case exposed cozy dealings among cronies in a city hall that grew more and more corrupt.

“The broad canvas painted by the state’s witness revealed corrupt systems of government that had rotted over the years,” Rosen said in his decision, which was translated in the Times of Israel. “Hundreds of thousands of shekels were transferred to elected and public officials.”

Olmert served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003. The court found that he received bribes via postdated checks made out to his brother.

Guilty verdicts on bribery charges were handed down for nine of Olmert’s co-defendants, including his former chief of staff, another former Jerusalem mayor, the Jerusalem city engineer, a bank chairman, two city council members and the owners of the Holyland complex.

Olmert was appointed prime minister in 2006 after Ariel Sharon, his immediate predecessor, had a debilitating stroke. He was forced to resign in 2009 to face charges in a different corruption case involving charges of fraud, breach of trust and tax evasion.

In that case, Olmert was found guilty by an Israeli court in 2012 of breach of trust, and was ordered to pay fines. He was acquitted of the major counts of fraud.

Olmert was criticized for his handling of the 2006 Lebanon war waged by Israel against the Hezbollah militia.

In one of the last serious efforts at making peace with the Palestinians, Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in Annapolis, Md., in 2007, and again in 2008 in Jerusalem, where Olmert said he offered major concessions to the Palestinians, which ultimately did not produce a deal.

“What’s left of the Israeli peace camp will be deflated by Olmert’s conviction,” said Yossi Alpher, an Israeli strategic analyst. “They had held out hope he could make a comeback and pick up where he left off, but obviously that is not going to happen.”

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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