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World

Israel bribery conviction part of crackdown

A bribery conviction for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came on a wave of corruption charges against other politicians. While some expressed satisfaction, others doubted the conviction would make a difference.

A Tel Aviv court

convicted

former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of bribery relating to the Holyland apartment complex, a blocky white collection of luxury towers perched upon a Jerusalem hillside. Tel Aviv judge David Rosen determined that as Jerusalem's mayor, Olmert had accepted the equivalent of 100,000 euros ($138,000) in bribes in exchange for allowing the complex to balloon beyond its legally allowed size.

Holyland had been approved in 1996 under Olmert's leadership. Legal commentator Moshe Negbi said he never got used to sprawling complex.

"Every time I pass near it - and I live near it - I say to my wife, this is a monument to corruption," Negbi told Deutsche Welle.

Holyland was the center of an unprecedented scandal; Olmert was among 12 other defendants charged, including former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski. In Tel Aviv, Judge Rosen described Olmert's actions as "corrupt and filthy practices."

View of the Holyland luxury apartment complex in Jerusalem on April 21, 2010 (Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Many consider the Holyland complex to be an eyesore

Cracking down on corruption

Negbi pointed out that corruption is not unique to Jerusalem, reminding that mayors of the Tel Aviv suburbs of Ramat Gan and Bat Yam are also facing bribery charges connected to building permits. Two other mayors have been indicted for fraud, as well.

"I don't remember a time when there were so many corruption cases against mayors," Negbi said.

In reaction to the wave of municipal corruption allegations, Israel's Parliament passed a bill in December compelling mayors who were indicted for felonies to step down until the end of their trials.

Olmert served as Jerusalem's mayor from 1993 to 2003, and as Israel's prime minister from 2006 to 2009. He resigned from the top office amid bribery charges.

In July 2012, a Jerusalem court acquitted Olmert on bribes and multiple billings for foreign travel. In that trial, the court fined Olmert about 14,000 euros ($19,000). Olmert is scheduled to be sentenced in the present case on April 28.

Triumph, sadness, contempt among reactions

Prosecutor Yoni Tadmor declared Olmert's conviction a victory for the law.

"The court said, loud and clear: no more governmental corruption," Tadmor said after the trial. "Every bribe-taker and giver should know that from now on that even if they act in the dark, they will not get away with it forever."

In Tel Aviv Monday, Israelis were saddened but relieved to hear the end of the Olmert saga.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy listens to speeches during his visit at Brie-Comte-Robert hospital, some 30km east of Paris, France, 06 July 2010 (Photo: EPA/YOAN VALAT)

Sarkozy faced corruption charges relating to funding for his 2007 campaign

"He wasn't smart enough. He made mistakes," said Amiram Kerer, 61, who runs a tree nursery north of Tel Aviv. "If he really stole and got convicted, he has to pay for it."

Belgian-Israeli artist Sylvie Chmielewski, 45, took comfort in the foibles of other world leaders. "Even in France, former President Sarkozy was also brought to trial," she said. "It happens in every country. It's especially bad in Israel but it happens in other places."

Tel Aviv photographer Amir Meiri, 50, laughed at the idea that Olmert's conviction would be a serious blow to corruption. "It's peanuts," he said. "Give me a break. Everybody is corrupt."

Political career over

Commentator Negbi said Olmert will almost definitely face jail time, a first for a former Israeli Prime Minister. Olmert was rumored to be contemplating a return to politics, but Negbi said his conviction would probably end all hopes of a comeback "in the foreseeable future."

Speaking after the court decision, Olmert's Attorney Roy Blecher said, "It's not an easy day for Mr. Olmert … We will of course weigh our next steps."

Building there to stay

The Holyland building remains an eyesore on the Jerusalem skyline. Architect Ram Karmi, who worked on the original building plans but left the project as it grew, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the building was an atrocity.

"Those who carried it out murdered my concept and the buildings I planned," he said in a 2010 interview.

Even though it was born in sin, it's doubtful the Holyland complex will disappear, said attorney Tomer Naor of the Movement for Quality in Government.

"You cannot kick thousands of families to the street just because someone paid a bribe," Naor said. "So I don't think we will see it demolished."

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