Jerusalem, Feb 15: Disgraced former prime minister Ehud Olmert today became Israel's first ex-premier to be jailed as he began serving a 19-month sentence in the biggest corruption scandal in the Jewish nation's history.
70-year-old Olmert entered Ma'asiyahu Prison in Ramle this morning, nearly two months after the apex court upheld his bribery conviction. Earlier in the morning, hours ahead of his incarceration, he insisted that while he accepted the sentence, he was innocent of taking bribes, the Times of Israel reported.
"As prime minister I was entrusted with Israel's security, and now I am the one who is about to sit behind bars. You may well imagine how this transformation is painful and strange to me," Olmert said in a short video released shortly before he departed for the prison. "At this time I want to say that I deny outright the charges relating to bribery attributed to me," he said.
"It is also important for me to note that all the charges do not touch on the time of my tenure as prime minister. It is with a very heavy heart that I accept the sentence no one is above the law," he concluded.
A Jerusalem court last week added another month behind bars to his jail term after he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in various cases against him. The plea deal was the first admission of wrongdoing by the former premier and Jerusalem mayor, who has consistently maintained his innocence throughout eight years of legal proceedings in various graft cases.
Olmert admitted to trying to persuade his former secretary not to testify against him in the Holyland scandal and of trying to buy her silence, and a second affair involving cash infusions from US businessman Morris Talansky.
In December, the Supreme Court reduced Olmert's sentence from six years to 18 months in prison, and acquitted him on one of the charges, bringing an end to what was dubbed the largest bribery scandal in Israel's history.
The Holyland scandal refers to a housing project of high rise buildings over a hilltop overlooking the city. In 2010, Olmert was named the key suspect in the case and was accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels for helping developers get the project past various legal and planning obstacles.
Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2009, was sentenced in May, 2014 to six years in prison on two separate charges of taking bribes. He was forced to resign as premier in 2009 when the corruption allegations surfaced.
He was also fined 1 million shekels (about USD 250,000) in 2014 for receiving some 500,000 shekels (USD 125,000) in bribes through his brother in the Holyland case during his tenure as Jerusalem mayor before becoming prime minister.