Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Breaking News

Ehud Olmert Gets 6 Years in Prison for ‘Holyland’ Corruption

(Reuters) — Israel’s ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in jail on Tuesday for taking bribes in a real estate deal, a crime the judge said was akin to treason.

The first criminal conviction of a former Israeli head of government all but ended speculation that Olmert – a centrist credited internationally with working towards a peace settlement with the Palestinians – might return to political life.

He had denied any wrongdoing in the property deal, approved when he served as Jerusalem’s mayor, that led to the construction of the hilltop Holyland apartment towers, a hulking stone complex widely seen as one of the city’s worst eyesores.

“A public servant who takes bribes is akin to a traitor,” said Judge David Rozen in the Tel Aviv District Court, as he handed down a six-year prison term sought by prosecutors and fined Olmert 1 million shekels ($289,500).

Rozen found Olmert guilty on March 31 of two bribery charges, saying the former prime minister had accepted 500,000 shekels from developers of the Holyland project and 60,000 shekels in a separate real estate deal.

Olmert, the judge said, devoted most of his time to “praise-worthy” public service – but “also lined his own pockets”.

“The accused served as the prime minister of Israel. From this high and honourable post, he reached the position of having been convicted of the most despicable and grave crimes,” Rozen said.

Rozen ordered Olmert, 68, to report to prison on Sept. 1, effectively giving his lawyers time to take the case to a higher court and request that he remain free until it rules.

Known as one of the country’s most gregarious politicians, Olmert sat largely stony-faced during the court session, and made no comment afterwards.

“He did not take a bribe. He did not receive a bribe. He sees himself as innocent, and it is with those feelings that he will be going to the Supreme Court to appeal,” Olmert lawyer Eli Zohar told reporters.

Two years ago, Olmert was acquitted of most of the major charges brought against him in separate cases involving his links to a U.S. businessman.

Those corruption allegations forced Olmert’s resignation as prime minister in 2008, and his acquittal had appeared to position him for a possible political comeback.

NETANYAHU CRITIC

Olmert has made several criticisms of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians, fuelling talk about his future political ambitions.

But the judge said Olmert’s crimes entailed “moral turpitude”, which under Israeli law would preclude him from running for public office for seven years after finishing his jail term.

A lawyer by profession, Olmert began his political career in the 1970s as a lawmaker who targeted organised crime in Israel.

He was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 and prime minister from 2006 to 2009, staying in office in a caretaker capacity until after an election that brought right-winger Netanyahu to power.

As Israel’s leader, Olmert waged war against militants in Lebanon in 2006 and the Gaza Strip in 2008.

He claimed significant progress in talks with the Palestinians aimed at securing a final peace deal, offering an Israeli withdrawal from much of the occupied West Bank. But no agreement was reached.

After a three-year break, U.S.-brokered negotiations resumed in July, but they were frozen last month by Netanyahu after President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestine Liberation Organization signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates Israel’s destruction.

Palestinians blamed Netanyahu for the collapse, citing Israeli settlement-building and his failure to carry out a pledged prisoner release.

Olmert was among 13 defendants in the Holyland case. Sentences handed down on Tuesday against six of the other accused ranged from three to seven years.

In 2010, a former Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, was convicted on rape charges. He is serving a seven-year sentence.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.