Ex-prime minister begins jail term

Mr Olmert maintained his innocence.

Tuesday February 16 2016

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrives for a hearing in his trial for corruption in Tel Aviv on May 13, 2014. Mr Olmert, 70, entered the Maasiyahu prison in the central city of Ramle just before 10:00 am on February 15, 2016. PHOTO | AFP

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrives for a hearing in his trial for corruption in Tel Aviv on May 13, 2014. Mr Olmert, 70, entered the Maasiyahu prison in the central city of Ramle just before 10:00 am on February 15, 2016. PHOTO | AFP 

By AFP
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RAME, ISRAEL

Ehud Olmert, once known for his work to relaunch peace efforts with the Palestinians, became Israel’s first ex-prime minister to serve jail time on Monday as he began a 19-month term for bribery and obstruction of justice.

Mr Olmert, 70, entered the Maasiyahu prison in the central city of Ramle just before 10:00 am, AFP journalists reported.

He was escorted to the prison by officers from Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency as a crowd of journalists watched from nearby.

Israeli television broadcast live footage from outside the prison, with Mr Olmert’s case having transfixed the nation.

In a video message released this morning before he began his sentence, Mr Olmert maintained his innocence.

“You can imagine how painful and strange this change is to me, my family, loved ones and supporters,” said Mr Olmert, looking haggard and downcast. “I deny all the bribe charges attributed to me.”

He added that “over the course of my extensive career I also made mistakes, though none of them were criminal by nature in my opinion. I’m paying dearly for some of them today, perhaps too dear.

“With a very heavy heart, I’m accepting my sentence today. Nobody is above the law.” He was initially given six years’ prison in May 2014 for taking bribes in the early 2000s in connection with the construction of Jerusalem’s massive Holyland residential complex, but the sentence was later reduced to 18 months.

Last week, an Israeli court handed him an additional month for obstructing justice. He admitted to the crime as part of a plea bargain in that case.

His prison sentence could still be extended further. The Supreme Court is still debating his appeal against a third sentence of eight months for fraud and corruption.

Each day Mr Olmert will be woken up at 5:00 am for a roll call and will undergo a 7:30 am inspection.

He is entitled to receive and send letters, which can be examined by the prison. The prisoner has to pay for the stamps and envelopes.

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