Ex-Israeli Prime Minister Olmert cleared of main charges in corruption case

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Moshe Negbi, Israel Radio’s legal analyst, said the Sept. 5 sentencing will decide Olmert’s political future. If the court says the conviction amounts to “moral turpitude,” he would be sentenced to at least three months of prison time or community service and be barred from re-entering politics for seven years.

“As for the moral turpitude, I am not sure because even though Olmert failed, his breach of duty was not accompanied with any benefit for himself,” said Emanuel Gross, a legal analyst at the University of Haifa, adding that a jail sentence appeared highly unlikely.

Olmert’s lawyer, Eli Zohar, said there was no legal precedent for jail time on a single count of breach of trust. He said he would not appeal this conviction and that it posed no deterrent for Olmert to eventually return to political life.

“He was almost totally acquitted of all the charges he was charged with, despite one which is insignificant for his future as a possible candidate,” Mr. Zohar told the Associated Press. He said the conviction amounted to an ethical breach, rather than a legal crime.

Prosecutors took solace in the lone conviction, saying the court ruled a public servant could not engage in matters in which they had vested interests. They said they would study the 742-page verdict before deciding whether to appeal.

Olmert entered politics in 1973 with the hard-line Likud Party. But late in his career, he underwent a transformation, adopting dovish views in favor of broad concessions to the Palestinians.

He bolted the Likud with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to form the centrist Kadima Party in 2005, leading it to victory in elections the following year after Mr. Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke. As prime minister, Olmert conducted intense peace talks with the Palestinians, offering a near-complete pullout from the West Bank before the talks fizzled at the end of his term.

Olmert claimed to be close to an accord just as he was driven from the premiership and the pileup of corruption charges undermined his efforts of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians. Negotiations have been largely frozen since, leading some to bemoan how a bombastic case that altered Mideast peace efforts ended with a whimper.

“Of the indictment that led to the changing of the government in Israel and, in effect the course of history, remains a very small and insignificant piece,” said Jacob Galanti, a top Olmert aide.

Olmert’s term was also marked by the 2006 war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and a bruising offensive in Gaza in early 2009 that largely halted years of Palestinian rocket fire. Popular support for his Kadima also has slipped dramatically in the three years since Olmert left politics.

Israel’s leadership has been tarnished multiple times by convictions in recent years, and members of Olmert’s own Cabinet are currently sitting in jail. His former finance minister was sentenced to five years for embezzlement, and another member of his Cabinet was sentenced to four years for taking bribes. Neither case occurred while the two were in the Cabinet.

And last year, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of rape and other sex crimes prior to his presidency.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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