Judge criticizes Olmert plea deal, adds month to sentence

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Court added another month to the sentence of former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Monday and fined him NIS 50,000.

Judge Avital Chen harshly criticized and rejected parts of the plea bargain Olmert signed, as part of which he pleaded guilty and was convicted of two counts of obstruction of justice in the Holyland and Talansky trials.

Olmert is expected to started serving a prison sentence of a year and seven months on Monday.

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As part of the agreement, Olmert was sentenced to six months imprisonment, but only five of which will overlap with the sentence he received in the Holyland case.

Judge Chen noted that “The court was not presented with reasoning to overlap the sentences. The meaning of the agreement is that Olmert will not serve a sentence for the obstruction offenses. I’m having a hard time approving an arrangement according to which a man who committed two grave obstruction offenses will not serve an accumulative sentence.”

Ahead of the court hearing, inquiries were made to see whether both sides would agree to change the plea bargain at the last minute, so another month is added to the sentence. After a short negotiation, the two sides could not reach an agreement, leading Judge Chen to make his unusual ruling.

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Olmert is still facing an additional sentence of eight months imprisonment in the Talansky case, but he is still pending a decision from the Supreme Court.

Attorney Eli Zohar, who represents Olmert, claimed there was no special reason to add 30 more days to the former prime minister’s sentence, particularly since the law states the sentences should overlap.

“I regret the judge’s ruling,” Zohar said. “We went for the deal as it was based on the legal opinion of the top officials in the justice system, and received the approval of the attorney general. I regret that the court thought 30 days justify the ruination of the deal. Olmert’s reaction was disappointment, because we had an agreement. Agreements must be kept, as do plea deals.”

Prosecutor Keren Bar-Menachem from the State Attorney’s Central District said the prosecution “viewed the plea as appropriate punishment. We saw the great importance of having the defendant for the first time publicly take responsibility for his actions. The court chose to slightly deviate from the agreement.”

At the center of the obstruction case are recordings supplied by onetime Olmert aide Shula Zaken as state witness.

Olmert can be heard in the tapes trying to dissuade her from testifying against him. He was recorded explaining to Zaken that if she declined to testify, it would be impossible to use the diaries in which she recorded payments to “the secret cash box” as evidence.

“If you don’t get on the witness stand,” Olmert was recorded saying, “he (prosecutor Uri Korev) can jump, dance in the air, but he can’t convict you. He cannot present these diaries… He’ll murder you… and you’ll incriminate yourself on the witness stand, that’s what bothers me.”

Olmert was convicted in March 2014 in a wide-ranging case that accused him of accepting bribes to promote a controversial real-estate project, and sentenced to six years. In December the Supreme Court reduced his sentence.