Israeli ex-PM Olmert begins serving prison term

Israeli ex-PM Olmert begins serving prison term
Ehud Olmert, who led a war of aggression against Lebanon in 2006 after succeeding Ariel Sharon as Israeli's former prime minister, begins serving prison term for bribery and corruption.
2 min read
15 February, 2016
Olmert (L) continued to maintain his innocence but said he accepts his sentence [AFP]

Ehud Olmert 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.

Olmert, 70, entered the Maasiyahu prison in the central city of Ramle just before 10:00 am (0800 GMT), 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 Olmert's case having transfixed the nation.

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

"You can imagine how painful and strange this change is to me, my family, loved ones and supporters," said 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."

Olmert has also been accused of war crimes in Gaza and Lebanon

Corruption and war

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.

Previously, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was sentenced to 7 years in prison for rape.

Several former ministers were also convicted of crimes ranging from corruption to embezzlment, while corruption allegations continue to haunt serving Israeli officials including Prime Minister Netanyahu

The Israeli Prison Service had to create a special section for Olmert and four others who were convicted with him in the same corruption case.

Olmert was appointed prime minister after his predecessor Ariel Sharon went into a long coma.

He waged a number of wars during his term, including Lebanon's 2006 war and Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in 2008.

Ehud Olmert also faced accusations of war crimes for his disproportionate handling of the wars with Hamas and Hizballah, most of whose casualties were civilians.

With agencies.