Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert convicted in corruption trial

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has been convicted of unlawfully accepting money from a US supporter in a retrial on corruption charges, the latest chapter in the downfall of a man who, only years earlier, hoped to lead the country to a historic peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert convicted in corruption trial

The conviction could land Olmert five years in prison, in addition to a six-year prison sentence he received last year in a separate bribery conviction, all but ensuring the former premier will not return to politics for many years.

“His behaviour constitutes a breach of trust which harms the public, harms morality, and harms the public’s trust, in how he behaved corruptly,” said prosecutor Uri Korev after the verdict.

Olmert’s lawyers said they would likely appeal the ruling by the Jerusalem District Court. A sentencing hearing is slated to take place in May.

Olmert has claimed he was on the brink of a historic agreement with the Palestinians when he was forced to resign in early 2009 amid corruption allegations. His departure cleared the way for hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu’s election, and subsequent peace efforts have not succeeded.

Olmert, 69, was acquitted in 2012 of a series of charges that included accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from US businessman Morris Talansky when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and a cabinet minister.

Olmert was found to have received about €550,000 from Talansky during his term as mayor, and additional amounts in cash during his term as a cabinet minister, but a court did not find evidence that the money had been used for unlawful personal reasons or illegal campaign financing.

Talansky, an Orthodox Jew from New York’s Long Island, had testified the money was spent on expensive cigars, first-class travel and luxury hotels, while insisting he received nothing in return.

The acquittal on the most serious charges at the time was seen as a major victory for Olmert, who denied being corrupt. He was convicted on a lesser charge of breach of trust for steering job appointments and contracts to clients of a business partner, and it raised hopes for his political comeback.

However, Olmert’s former office manager and confidant, Shula Zaken, later became a state’s witness, offering diary entries and tape recordings of conversations with Olmert about illicitly receiving cash, leading to a retrial. In the recordings, Olmert is heard telling Zaken not to testify in the first trial so she would not incriminate him.

Olmert’s lawyer Eyal, Rozovsky, said Olmert’s legal team was very disappointed by the ruling and will likely appeal.

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