Israel's disgraced ex-premier released from jail

Mr Ehud Olmert leaving Maasiyahu prison yesterday. He was granted an early release by a parole board last week, shaving about a third off his 27-month sentence over corruption scandals.
Mr Ehud Olmert leaving Maasiyahu prison yesterday. He was granted an early release by a parole board last week, shaving about a third off his 27-month sentence over corruption scandals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JERUSALEM • Mr Ehud Olmert was once described as "probably the best" politician Israel had produced, but the debonair former premier, who was released from prison yesterday, has seen a humiliating fall from grace.

Mr Olmert, 71, became Israel's first former prime minister to serve jail time when he walked into the Maasiyahu prison in the central city of Ramle in February 2016 for a 27-month term over corruption scandals.

He was granted an early release by a parole board last week, shaving about a third off his sentence. He did not speak to reporters when leaving prison yesterday.

Once known for relaunching peace efforts with the Palestinians when he was prime minister between 2006 and 2009, Mr Olmert is now likely to be remembered for allegations that led one judge to speak of "corrupt and filthy practices".

A balding father of four with a lean physique, roguish grin and a reputed taste for fine cigars, Mr Olmert maintained his innocence in a video message before entering prison. "You can imagine how painful and strange this change is to me, my family, loved ones and supporters," he said in the clip.

The main allegations against him date to before his time as prime minister, to the years when he served as mayor of Jerusalem and economy minister, among other positions.

Mr Olmert was born near Haifa on Sept 30, 1945, during the British mandate of Palestine.

A lawyer by trade, he surprised many right-wing friends in the early 1970s by marrying left-leaning artist Aliza Richter, who brought up their children with equally liberal views.

He entered the Cabinet in 1988 and five years later was elected mayor of Jerusalem, a post he held for a decade but in which he rarely distinguished himself, before returning to the government under then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2003. With Mr Sharon, he broke away from the right-wing Likud party in 2005 to form the centre-right Kadima and became premier the following year after Mr Sharon had a massive stroke and slipped into a coma.

Before taking over as prime minister, Mr Olmert was recognised as a key strategist behind many of Mr Sharon's boldest moves, including Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza as well as Mr Sharon's split from Likud.

Time magazine was so impressed that it dubbed Mr Olmert "the 12th Israeli to serve as prime minister and probably the best politician of them all".

After Mr Sharon's collapse, Mr Olmert led Kadima to victory in March 2006 on a platform of dismantling dozens of settlements and withdrawing troops from most of the West Bank.

But things began to go downhill, with his West Bank plan shelved after a bloody 34-day war against Lebanon's Hezbollah that summer which left more than 1,200 dead in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 in Israel, mostly soldiers.

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

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2017, with the headline 'Israel's disgraced ex-premier released from jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe