Olmert arrives to learn his fate

Olmert arrives to learn his fate

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was this week convicted in his bribery trial.

The verdict could send him to prison and has crushed his hopes of making a political comeback.

It ends the most serious legal battle 68-year-old Olmert has faced since he was forced to step down as PM in 2009 amid a flurry of corruption allegations. It also capped a political career that saw him transformed from a sharp-tongued, hard-line backbencher in the Likud Party into a global statesman whose push for peace with the Palestinians came crashing down due to his legal troubles.

The Tel Aviv district court handed down its decision this week in a Jerusalem real estate scandal case related to Olmert’s activities when he was mayor of Jerusalem and before he became prime minister in 2006.

A total of 13 government officials, developers and other business people were charged in connection with three separate schemes related to the Holyland housing development in Jer­usalem, in what was regarded as perhaps the largest corruption scandal ever exposed in Israel.

“It is not an easy day for Olmert,” his lawyer Roy Blecher said upon leaving the court. Sentencing is set for 28 April. Legal experts said the conviction will almost certainly entail a custodial sentence for Olmert.

According to the original 2012 indictment, millions of dollars illegally changed hands to promote a series of real estate projects, including a controversial housing development in Jerusalem that required a radical change in zoning laws and earned the developers tax breaks and other benefits.

Olmert was charged for acts committed while he was mayor of Jerusalem and minister of industry and trade. He was accused of taking bribes to push the project forward.

The conviction brings to a dramatic end Olmert’s long political career, which was dogged by corruption allegations but which – until now – rarely stuck. Without a natural rival to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Olmert was often mentioned as a potential centre-left alternative, should he survive his legal woes.

He is expected to appeal against the decision, but either way his political career was over, said Tamir Sheafer, a professor of political science at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. “Even if he is somehow exonerated, his career is over,” he said.

“He had to come out as pure as snow to carry on.”

Olmert has already faced a trial on separate charges of accepting illicit funds from an American supporter and double-billing Jewish groups for trips abroad. He was cleared in 2012 of the most serious charges but convicted on a lesser count of breach of trust for steering jobs and contracts to clients of business partners and received a suspended one-year sentence.