Door open for political return as Olmert avoids jail over corruption

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has received a fine and a suspended jail sentence in a corruption scandal, clearing a major hurdle in a possible return to politics.

A Jerusalem court fined him about £11,000 and a one-year suspended sentence for his breach of trust conviction. He was not given any community service.

By avoiding stiffer penalties, Olmert is now eligible to run for parliament, although he remains barred from serving in a cabinet post while he faces another corruption trial.

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Olmert was convicted in July of breach of trust for helping allocate government contracts to a friend’s associates. At the time, he was acquitted of more serious corruption charges that forced him to resign three years ago.

He left court declaring: “I walk out of here with my head held high.”

Olmert was forced out of office nearly four years ago under the cloud of scandal, accused of accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from an American political supporter and allegedly double billing supporters for overseas trips.

But in July, the court cleared him of those serious allegations, convicting him only on the lesser charge of breach of trust for helping allocate government contracts to a friend’s associates.

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In its decision, the court criticised Olmert. “It was a very clear conflict of interest,” the judge said. “It was a breach of trust, and we must relate to it in the harshest of terms.”

Olmert fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat as the sentence was read out. But afterward, with it clear that he had avoided a harsher punishment, he smiled and embraced his lawyers.

One of them, Navot Tel-Zur, said the case was “unprecedented” in forcing a sitting prime minister to resign.

“He was cleared at the end of the day,” he said, adding that any attempt by prosecutors to appeal would be seen as a “witch 

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Olmert was deeply unpopular when he was forced from office, but he has enjoyed a comeback of sorts in recent months.

Many commentators have lamented the breakdown in Middle East peace efforts under the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and wondered whether Olmert, who conducted more than a year of intense negotiations with the Palestinians, might have delivered an agreement if he had not been driven from office.

Olmert has claimed that he was on the brink of a historic agreement with the Palestinians at the time of his resignation.