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Ex-Israeli Premier Sentenced           05/25 09:36

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced 
Monday to eight months in prison for unlawfully accepting money from a U.S. 
supporter, capping the dramatic downfall of a man who only years earlier led 
the country and hoped to bring about a historic peace agreement with the 
Palestinians.

   Olmert was convicted in March in a retrial in Jerusalem District Court. The 
sentencing comes in addition to a six-year prison sentence he received last 
year in a separate bribery conviction, ensuring the end of the former premier's 
political career.

   Olmert's lawyer, Eyal Rozovsky, said Olmert's legal team was "very 
disappointed" by the ruling and would appeal to Israel's Supreme Court. They 
were granted a 45-day stay, meaning the former Israeli leader will avoid 
incarceration for now.

   Olmert also was given a suspended sentence of an additional eight months and 
fined $25,000.

   A slew of character witnesses had vouched for Olmert, including former 
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan in 
written statements read aloud Monday. The verdict stated that it recognized 
Olmert's vast contributions to Israeli society and sentenced him to less than 
the prosecution had demanded. Still, it ruled that "a black flag hovers over 
his conduct."

   Olmert was forced to resign in early 2009 amid the corruption allegations. 
His departure cleared the way for hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu's election, and 
subsequent Mideast peace efforts have not succeeded.

   Olmert, 69, was acquitted in 2012 of a series of charges that included 
accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from U.S. businessman Morris Talansky when 
Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and a Cabinet minister. Olmert was found to have 
received about $600,000 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 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 only 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.

   But 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.

   The judges concluded that Olmert gave Zaken part of the money in exchange 
for her loyalty, and used the money for his own personal use without reporting 
it according to law. They convicted him on a serious charge of illicitly 
receiving money, as well as charges of fraud and breach of trust.

   In a separate trial in March 2014, Olmert was convicted of bribery over a 
Jerusalem real estate scandal and was sentenced to six years in prison. He 
appealed and has been allowed to stay out of prison until a verdict is 
delivered.

   At the time Olmert resigned as prime minister, Israel and the Palestinians 
had been engaged in more than a year of intense negotiations over the terms of 
Palestinian independence. The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east 
Jerusalem, in addition to the Gaza Strip, for an independent state. Israel 
occupied the three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza 
in 2005.

   Since leaving office, Olmert has said he presented the Palestinians the most 
generous Israeli proposal in history, offering roughly 95 percent of the West 
Bank, along with a land swap covering the remaining 5 percent of territory. In 
addition, he proposed international administration in east Jerusalem, home to 
the city's most sensitive religious sites.

   Palestinian officials have said that while progress was made, Olmert's 
assessment was overly optimistic.


(KA)


 
 
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