Ehud Olmert, Israel's former prime minister and one-time mayor of Jerusalem who was convicted of bribery charges in 2014 in relation to real estate deals during his time as mayor, will be serving jail time at a special high-security prison ward after the country's top court reduced his sentence from six years to just 18 months today.
Olmert has consistently denied any wrongdoing and has fought his conviction all the way up to the Israeli Supreme Court. It overturned his conviction for taking 500,000 shekels from developers of the controversial Holyland apartment towers project — the most serious charge against him — citing a lack of evidence, but upheld his bribery conviction for the smaller amount of 60,000 shekels in connection to another real estate deal.
"A large weight has been lifted from my heart with the Supreme Court deciding to acquit me of the main charge in the Holyland affair,"Olmerttold reporters afterward. "No bribe was ever offered to me and I never accepted one. But I respect the verdict of the Supreme Court justices."
He will be the first of the nation's former prime ministers to serve time in prison.
In response to the unique situation, Israel's Prison Service and Public Security Ministry came up with a special plan to address the security concerns posed by the famous inmate. In August, it began construction of a $1 million high-security "VIP wing" at the Ma'asiyahu Prison in Ramle that will house Olmert and other high-profile inmates. The spacious ward will only house 20 inmates, which will include former politicians, police officers, judges and other notable members of the government requiring special security, according to a report in Haaretz.
The ministry determined that Olmert will not be held in solitary confinement and can interact with other VIP prisoners in an open ward.
The Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency that provides protection for the prime minister and former heads of state, will not be accompanying Olmert in jail, instead trusting the prison to ensure his safety.
Ma'asiyahu Prison has experience with famous inmates. Israel's former President Moshe Katsav is currently serving a seven-year sentence for rape there.
Olmert succeeded Ariel Sharon as prime minister of Israel in 2006 and served until he was forced to step down in 2009 during the corruption scandal. He tried to make peace with the Palestinian leadership while in office, but his efforts failed to go anywhere and have remained stagnant since the election of his successor, current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.