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Israeli's Former PM Ehud Olmert Begins Sentence for Bribery, Obstruction of Justice

by The Associated Press /  / Updated 

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JERUSALEM — Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert started serving a 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice Monday, making him first Israeli premier to be imprisoned.

The 70-year-old's incarceration capped a years-long legal saga that forced him to resign in 2006 amid the last serious round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Image: Ehud Olmert enters prison
Ehud Olmert enters prison to begin his sentence on Monday.Ariel Schalit / AP

Olmert walked into the Maasiyahu prison in central Israel hours after he released a video making a last-minute plea to Israelis meant to salvage his legacy. In the video, he appealed on the nation to remember his peace-making efforts as leader and denied any wrongdoing in the bribery conviction against him.

The three-and-a-half minute video, released by his office and filmed at his home a day earlier, shows a weary-looking Olmert. He says it is a "painful and strange" time for him and his family and that he is paying a "heavy" price, but also adding that he has accepted the sentence because "no man is above the law."

"At this hour it is important for me to say again ... I reject outright all the corruption allegations against me," Olmert said in the footage. He said that in hindsight, the Israeli public might view the charges against him and the seven-year legal ordeal that enveloped him in a "balanced and critical way."

Olmert was convicted in March 2014 in a wide-ranging case that accused him of accepting bribes to promote a controversial real-estate project in Jerusalem. The charges pertained to a period when he was mayor of Jerusalem and trade minister, years before he became prime minister in 2006, a point he reiterated in his video statement Monday.

He was initially sentenced to six years, but Israel's Supreme Court upheld a lesser charge, reducing the sentence to 18 months. That was extended by a month earlier this year for pressuring a confidant not to testify in multiple legal cases against him.

Olmert is also awaiting a ruling in an appeal in a separate case, in which he was sentenced to eight months in prison for unlawfully accepting money from a U.S. supporter.

Israel has sent other senior officials to prison, including Moshe Katsav, who held the mostly ceremonial post of the country's president and who is now serving a seven-year prison term for rape.

Despite his lengthy career as a public servant, former prison officials said Olmert would be treated like any other inmate, despite being held in a special wing for security reasons.

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