By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is serving a 27-month prison term for corruption, won parole on Thursday, one of his lawyers said.
Israel Radio reported that Olmert would be freed on Sunday after a parole board decided to cut his sentence by a third, a common practice in Israel for prisoners who have not committed violent crimes. The prosecution said it would not appeal the decision.
“He was very excited. He was very happy,” Eli Zohar, another Olmert attorney, said of the parole decision. “He hopes very much the prosecution service will not ask to delay his release.”
Olmert was found guilty in 2014 of accepting bribes from real estate developers when he was Jerusalem’s mayor, before his 2006-09 term as prime minister and head of a centrist political party.
The corruption allegations led to Olmert’s resignation as prime minister in September 2008. He stayed in office in a caretaker capacity until a February 2009 election brought right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu to power.
During his time as Israel’s leader, he claimed significant progress in talks with the Palestinians on securing a final peace deal, offering an Israeli withdrawal from much of the occupied West Bank. But no agreement was reached.
A lawyer by profession, Olmert began his political career in the 1970s as a right-wing lawmaker who targeted organized crime in Israel. As prime minister, Olmert waged war against militants in Lebanon in 2006 and the Gaza Strip in 2008.
His original six-year sentence – the judge in the case said his corruption offences were tantamount to “treason” – was cut to 18 months on appeal, but another month was later tagged on over obstruction of justice charges.
Olmert’s term was ultimately lengthened to 27 months after he was convicted in a separate case involving cash payments from a U.S. businessman.
Over the past several weeks, Olmert was again in the Israeli headlines after police raided a publishing house over suspicions a memoir he is writing contained security secrets that had not been cleared by the country’s military censor.
Olmert was taken to hospital last week, complaining of chest pains, Israeli media reports said. He was returned to prison on Tuesday after tests and treatment.
Any attempt at a political comeback seems unlikely. A court found that his crimes entailed “moral turpitude”, which under Israeli law would preclude Olmert from running for public office for seven years after his release, when he will be 78.
(Editing by Luke Baker and Ed Osmond)