Olmert denies bribery charges as sentence begins

Former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert releases video statement denying bribery charges as prison sentence begins

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves Tel Aviv District Court in this May 13, 2014, file picture.

Updated Feb 19, 2016

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert released a video statement insisting on his innocence on Monday, before arriving at prison in a motorcade to begin a 19-month sentence for corruption.

In a video released to media before he pulled up at Maasiyahu prison in central Israel, Olmert said, "As prime minister I was charged with the highest responsibility of safeguarding Israel's citizens. Today I am the one to be locked behind bars."

"At this time, it is important for me to say once more, as I did in court and outside it, that I completely deny the bribery charges I was accused of," he added.

Olmert was charged with two bribery scandals and the Tel Aviv District Court had sentenced him to six years in prison in May last year.

He is the first former head of government in Israel to go to prison.

In December, Israel’s Supreme Court reduced Olmert’s penalty after he was acquitted of the felony of taking a bribe of 500,000 shekels ($128,500), but his conviction for the felony of taking a bribe of 60,000 shekels in a separate land deal still stands.

The charges go back to the early 2000s when he was the mayor of Jerusalem, before he became prime minister in 2006.

During his premiership from 2006 to 2009, he was internationally credited with working towards a peace accord with the Palestinians, until graft scandals forced him to step down.

He participated in the Annapolis Conference in November 2007 along with Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas and then-US President George W. Bush, in a bid to revive talks to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Olmert indicated before the talks that he would accept Jerusalem becoming a joint capital for both the Israeli and the Palestinian state, with the city’s east becoming part of Palestine while its Jewish neighbourhoods were to be ceded to Israel.

He also offered an Israeli withdrawal from much of the occupied West Bank, though no agreement was reached.

At the time Olmert warned that the collapse of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine would lead to the end of the state of Israel.

TRTWorld and agencies