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Former Prime Minister Olmert convicted in Israeli bribery case

Israeli media have reported that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was found guilty of two counts of bribery, dating back to his time as mayor of Jerusalem. The case was tied to a major real estate development project.

A court in Tel Aviv on Monday convicted Ehud Olmert of bribery in connection with a Jerusalem real estate deal during his time as mayor. The verdict looked likely to end any hopes Olmert might have held of launching a political comeback.

Olmert's spokesman Jacob Galanti said that the 68-year-old former premier would probably appeal the ruling, telling reporters: "The last word hasn't been said."

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Sentencing was scheduled for April 28; the maximum Israeli sentence for a public figure found guilty of accepting bribes is 10 years.

During the case, prosecutors had alleged that Olmert accepted more than $228,000 (166,000 euros) from developers of the Holyland apartment complex in Jerusalem in exchange for smoothing over legal and zoning restrictions.

Judge David Rozen said when handing down the conviction that the case "exposed governance that grew more corrupt and rotten over the years." The judge also said that Olmert "lied in court" during the trial.

One of more than a dozen people accused in the case was Olmert's former aide Shula Zaken. In a major blow to Olmert's defense, Zaken last week agreed to turn state's witness against him in return for her own legal liability being reduced.

Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003, and served as Israeli prime minister - via ministerial posts in government - from 2006 to 2008. Olmert resigned amid separate allegations of corruption first leveled in 2008, although he was later acquitted of all major charges in that case,

paying a $19,000 fine and receiving a suspended jail sentence

.

The centrist politician gained international recognition for making progress in peace talks with Palestinians. His recent criticisms of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comparatively tough stance on the current peace talks with Palestinians and on Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions had prompted speculation that Olmert was preparing for a political comeback.

msh/jr (AP, Reuters)

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