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Israel's Supreme Court slashes Olmert's 6-year sentence to 18 months in jail

Israel's Supreme Court has partially accepted an appeal from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - cutting his bribery sentence down to 18 months from six years. The charges hail from his time as Jerusalem's mayor.

Ehud Olmert, prime minister from 2006 to 2009, will become Israel's first former head of government to go to jail.

The court in Jerusalem on Tuesday cleared Olmert of one major count of bribe-taking when he served as the city's mayor between 1993 and 2003. It upheld a separate conviction on a lesser count, and dramatically reduced Olmert's May 2014 sentence to 18 months behind bars.

The former PM is expected to start his sentence on February 15. He was allowed to contest his appeal at the Supreme Court before going to jail.

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing in a major property deal that led to the construction of the hilltop Holyland apartment towers, a complex of luxury apartment buildings in Jerusalem, widely criticized for its ugly appearance.

"A large weight has been lifted from my heart with the Supreme Court deciding to acquit me of the main charge in the Holyland affair," Olmert told reporters after the Supreme Court ruling.

"No bribe was ever offered to me and I never accepted one," said Olmert, who looked visibly relieved wearing an open-neck blue shirt. "But I respect the verdict of the Supreme Court justices."

Bribery charges

Tel Aviv District Court found him guilty of two bribery charges, saying that he received 500,000 shekels (around $129,000 or 117,000 euros at today's exchange) from developers of the Holyland project and 60,000 shekels in a separate real estate deal. The six-year sentence handed down by the court was put on hold pending appeal.

The conviction ended speculation about Olmert’s return to politics. The centrist politician is credited with working towards a peace settlement with the Palestinians before he was forced to step down following corruption charges. The Kadima party he formerly headed is no longer represented in the parliament.

A five-member Supreme Court bench concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that Olmert had asked for 500,000 shekels from Holyland project developer to help his brother get out of debt.

In a separate case, Olmert was sentenced earlier this year to eight months in prison for illegally accepting money from a US supporter. He is also appealing that sentence.

Olmert is expected to serve his term in the same jail holding former Israeli President Moshe Katzav, who is serving a seven-year sentence after being convicted of rape charges in 2010.

ap/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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