JERUSALEM — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced Monday to eight months in prison and a $25,000 fine for illegally accepting campaign contributions from an American supporter.
It is the second conviction and sentence for the former leader, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009. He has yet to spend any time behind bars for the convictions.
Last year, he was handed a six-year prison sentence by a court in Tel Aviv for taking bribes from real estate developers when he served as mayor of Jerusalem more than a decade ago. That judgment was appealed by Olmert’s lawyers, and he is currently awaiting a final ruling from the Supreme Court.
Monday’s case, which Israelis refer to as the “Talansky Affair,” will also be appealed by Olmert’s legal team. It involves Long Island businessman Morris Talansky, who testified in an Israeli court in 2008 to handing Olmert envelopes filled with cash — support, he said, for the Israeli politician’s election campaign. The prosecution argued, however, that the money was in exchange for business favors and emphasized Olmert’s use of it for personal expenses.
He was acquitted in 2012 of the more serious charges, which included accepting some $600,000 from Talansky, but in March he was found guilty of fraud, breach of trust and receiving illicit benefits after his former office manager became a witness for the state.
Speaking at the Jerusalem district court after Monday’s verdict, Uri Korb, who oversaw Olmert’s prosecution, said the court had sent a clear message that “a black flag of immorality and corruption flies over the actions of the accused.”
Olmert’s lawyer, Eyal Rozovsky, said the ruling was disappointing and vowed to appeal. The court granted Olmert a 45-day stay, meaning he will continue to avoid jail time for now.
Early this month, ahead of the sentencing, Olmert asked to the court to be lenient, saying that he had suffered enough over the past few years during the lengthy legal process in both cases. He presented a letter from former British prime minister Tony Blair testifying to his good character, and he talked about his decades of public service.
Doron Navot, a lecturer in the School of Political Sciences at the University of Haifa, said it is not surprising that Olmert is fighting both convictions, nor is it surprising that the Supreme Court is taking its time to reach a final verdict in the first case.
“There is nothing regular about a former prime minister going to jail. It is a very difficult decision,” he said.
Navot said that because of gray areas in both cases, there is no consensus among lawyers who specialize in white-collar crimes about Olmert’s guilt or punishment under the law.
In the first case, Navot said, “there is no clear-cut evidence that he took bribes, although there is evidence that he acted unethically and there was a breach of trust.
“There is a difference here between public corruption and criminal law,” he said. “Corrupt behavior does not always fit perfectly into a criminal offense.”
Irit Baumhorn, a former state prosecutor, said the question of whether the former prime minister will eventually sit in prison depends heavily on the Supreme Court decision.
“The key will be what happens in the Supreme Court in the next few weeks,” she said, adding there is a chance Olmert could be acquitted or face a lesser sentence in both cases.