Published March 31, 2014
JERUSALEM – Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted on Monday in a high-profile bribery trial that will likely involve some jail time, Israeli media reported.
The Tel Aviv district court handed down the verdict in the wide-ranging Jerusalem real estate scandal case related to Olmert's activities before becoming prime minister in 2006. A total of 13 government officials, developers and other businesspeople were charged in three separate schemes.
Olmert was forced to resign as prime minister in 2009 amid a flurry of corruption allegations. Monday's verdict seals the most serious legal battle the 68-year-old Olmert has been waging since he stepped down and rules out any political comeback in the near future..
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.
At the time, Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and minister of industry and trade. He was accused of taking bribes to push the project forward.
Sentencing will take place at a later date, but legal experts say that such a conviction will almost certainly entail time in prison for Olmert.
The conviction puts a dramatic end to Olmert's long political career that was dogged by corruption allegations.
He 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 got a suspended one-year sentence.
That conviction was dwarfed by Monday's.
At the center of the case was the Holyland housing development, a hulking hilltop project that Jerusalem residents long suspected was tainted by corruption.
The case broke in 2010 on the strength of a businessman, Shmuel Dechner, who was involved in the project who turned state's witness. Dechner died last year from an illness.
The indictment accuses Olmert of seeking money, through a middleman, from Holyland developers to help out his brother, Yossi, who fled Israel because of financial problems. According to the indictment, Yossi Olmert received about $100,000.
Ehud Olmert was also accused of asking the middleman to help out city engineer Uri Sheetrit, who also had money woes. Sheetrit later dropped his opposition to the broad expansion of the Holyland complex, which burgeoned from a small development into a massive, high-rise project that sticks out from its low-rise neighbors. According to the indictment, Sheetrit received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.
The 87-page indictment also ensnares other powerful Israeli figures.
Former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who succeeded Olmert, was charged in the Jerusalem real estate scandal. Danny Dankner, the former chairman of Israel's second-biggest bank, was charged with offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to a government official to rezone land for one of his businesses.
Both Lupolianski and Dankner, along with several other figures, were convicted on Monday as well and only three lesser figures in the case were acquitted.
Last week, the case took a dramatic turn when a longtime aide of Olmert's agreed to turn state's witness against him. Shula Zaken reached a deal with authorities to testify against Olmert. Zaken, who has been Olmert's most loyal confidante for more than 30 years, will serve 11 months in prison as part of her plea bargain.