Middle East

Former Israeli PM Olmert granted early prison release: Lawyer

A parole committee has decided to grant early release to Israeli ex-prime minister Ehud

Olmert, who is serving a 27-month prison sentence for corruption, his lawyer said Thursday.

“The committee accepted all our arguments,” Olmert’s lawyer Shani Illouz told public radio. “As of now, Olmert will be released on Sunday,” she said, noting the justice ministry could still appeal the decision.

The 71-year-old Olmert, who was premier between 2006 and 2009, was convicted of graft and entered prison in February 2016.

His Sunday release would be after he completed two-thirds of his sentence.

The committee’s reasons for granting his early release were not immediately clear, with a statement expected later.

Olmert is Israel’s first former premier to serve jail time.

He resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police recommended he be indicted for graft, but remained in office until March 2009, when Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in to the post, which he has held ever since.

Olmert won international acclaim for relaunching peace efforts with the Palestinians at the Annapolis conference in the United States in 2007, but they failed to bear fruit and the corruption charges against him have come to define his legacy.

The parole committee’s decision comes after Olmert was rushed to hospital after experiencing chest pains in prison last week.

The former premier underwent examinations which determined he was healthy and returned to prison after a number of days.

A picture of a gaunt Olmert in hospital robes eating from plastic utensils found its way to social media, evoking a wave of sympathy from the public as well as politicians calling for his early release.

Even with his impending early release, Olmert could still face new criminal charges.

Earlier this month, the state attorney’s office instructed police to investigate suspicions Olmert had smuggled a chapter of a book he was writing out of prison, an act that would constitute a felony due to the “secretive” content, the justice ministry said.

Police had raided the office of the Yediot Aharonot publisher and seized Olmert’s manuscript as well as other materials out of fears their dissemination –- prior to the mandatory censorship they would be subject to -– could cause “severe security damage”, the justice ministry said.

The investigation was ongoing, with the state attorney’s office expected to announce in the next days whether they would seek to press fresh charges against Olmert over his conduct around the book.

Olmert’s original 27-month prison term was comprised of 18 months for taking bribes in the early 2000s in connection with the construction of Jerusalem’s massive Holyland residential complex, eight months for a separate case of fraud and corruption, and another month for obstructing justice.

Report by Jonah Mandel in Jerusalem – AFP

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