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The First Ex-Israeli PM to Be Jailed Has Just Started His Sentence

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has been jailed for 19 months for taking bribes, joins a host of other high-ranking politicians to spend time behind bars in Israel.
February 15, 2016, 1:20pm
Photo by Atef Safadi/EPA

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally began a 19-month jail sentence for accepting bribes on Monday after a protracted series of indictments, court cases, and appeals that begun more than six years ago.

Arriving at the prison gates in a motorcade at around 10am local time, Olmert exited his vehicle flanked by two plain-clothes security personnel who accompanied him past a crowd of reporters but did not enter the facility with him.

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In 2014 Olmert, now aged 70, was found guilty of two bribery charges: accepting 500,000 shekels ($129,000) from developers of the Holyland real estate project in Jerusalem, widely regarded as one of the city's worst eyesores, and another 60,000 shekels ($15,500) in a separate land deal.

He was initially sentenced to six years in jail, but the term was cut by Israel's Supreme Court in December to 18 months after it overturned his conviction on the first bribery charge. Last month, a lower court tagged another month onto that sentence for obstruction of justice.

The former prime minister is set to serve his sentence in "Wing 10," a special section of Maasiyahu prison reserved for "protected persons" which recently underwent a 4 million shekel ($1 million) renovation. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the wing has a library, dining room, sports equipment, offices for social workers, and can accommodate 18 inmates in six cells with three beds in each.

Related: A Middle East Peace 'Visionary': Tony Blair Steps In as Character Witness in Ex-Israeli Leader's Corruption Case

Despite serving his sentence in a special wing, where beefed up security is provided for prisoners, Olmert is expected to follow a standard jail schedule including three meals a day at specific hours and will only be allowed the same personal effects as other inmates in Israel: four pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, two towels, two tracksuits, a single-sized blanket and cover, two bed sheets, a pillow case, personal hygiene products, 1,500 shekels in cash, and religious items such as a prayer shawl.

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In a statement released shortly before he entered the prison, Olmert said he accepted the ruling against him with a "heavy heart" but maintained his innocence, claiming that the case against him had "snowballed due to non-judicial reasons."

"As prime minister I was charged with the highest responsibility of safeguarding the security of Israel's citizens. Today I am the one to be locked behind bars. You can surely imagine how painful and strange this change is for me and my family and loved ones," he said in a pre-recorded video message from his Jerusalem home.

"At this time it is important for me to say once more as I did in court and outside that I totally deny the bribery charges I was accused of… Perhaps once time passes the public will examine this sad moment through critical and balanced eyes."

However, despite his denials, Olmert may yet have an additional eight-months added onto his prison term for taking bribes from American businessman Morris "Moshe" Talansky. The former prime minister was found guilty in the so-called "cash envelopes" case last May after his former assistant testified against him, but the ruling is currently under appeal.

Related: Ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Serve Reduced Sentence in Special VIP Prison Ward

While Olmert is the first former head of government to spend time behind bars in Israel, he follows in the footsteps of several other high-ranking politicians. Over the last two decades more than a dozen MPs, including three former ministers, have received jail time for crimes including fraud, embezzlement, and forgery while in office.

Among them are former finance minister Avraham Hirschson, who stole almost 2 million shekels from the National Workers Labor Federation while acting as chairman of the organization, and the current minister of economy, Aryeh Deri, who spent nearly two years in Maasiyahu for taking bribes while he was interior minister.

A total of four Israeli prime ministers have been subject to police investigations for alleged corruption, but only Olmert has ultimately been charged and convicted.

Also currently serving time in Maasiyahu, though not on Wing 10, is former Israeli President Moshe Katsav who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2010 after being found guilty of two counts of rape.

Reuters contributed to this report