By James Marlow
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was released from prison in Ramle last Sunday morning after spending 16 months behind bars for a series of corruption convictions that included fraud, bribery and obstruction of justice.
His sentence was shortened by one-third in a surprising decision by the parole board last week, despite a new probe into alleged leaking of classified documents by the former premier. It was initially reported that the state prosecution would appeal the decision, but it declined to do so, allowing Olmert to end his prison term earlier than expected.
The 71-year-old, who was also a former Mayor of Jerusalem, was later seen strolling with body guards through a Tel Aviv shopping centre.
Olmert was released on restrictive conditions that include being forbidden from traveling abroad, mandatory twice a- month appearances at a local police station and once-a-week meetings with a social worker until the end of his sentence in May 2018. However, a spokesman for the President’s Office said Olmert had sent a request to President Reuven Rivlin to lift the restrictions. The spokesman said there was no deadline for responding to the request.
A lawyer by training, Olmert began his political career in the 1970’s as a right wing Likud lawmaker who targeted organized crime. As Prime Minister, Olmert waged war against Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War in July and August 2006 and against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009.
The ex-Prime Minister was sentenced for crimes in three matters: The Holy-land real estate corruption affair during his term as Jerusalem mayor (1993-2003); illegally receiving envelopes of cash from New York businessman Morris Talansky from 1993 to 2002; and seeking to obstruct the testimony of his former long-time bureau chief Shula Zaken.
In its ruling last week, the six-member parole board panel said Olmert’s behaviour in prison had been “impeccable,” except for one case in which he said something inappropriate to a guard, for which he was punished.
Olmert wrote a more than 1,000-page memoir while in prison, sparking a new probe in May over suspicions the former premier leaked classified documents during the course of writing the book. The parole board added in its decision that the Prisons Service was fully aware that Olmert was writing a book and that hundreds of pages of the manuscript were transferred to and from prison beginning in November 2016. But the Prisons Service did not try to prevent such transfers until mid-May.
The heart of Olmert’s argument for early release was that most convicts are released by the time they have served two-thirds of their sentence, assuming they did not commit a violent crime, which he did not.
Olmert’s lawyers have argued that, as the first Prime Minister to serve time behind bars, he suffered uniquely and served his time for financial crimes that, in the final analysis, represented only a small part of the original accusations.