Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, has begun serving his prison sentence, making him the first Israeli head of government to go to prison.
Olmert will enter Ma’asiyahu prison near Tel Aviv on Monday to start serving a 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice.
Hours before, Olmert released a video message saying that he “rejects outright” the bribery charges that he is convicted of.
“When I was prime minister, I was given the highest responsibility of safeguarding the security of the citizens of Israel and today it is I who am about to be locked up behind bars,” Olmert said in a video message, calling the experience “painful and strange”.
He admitted to having “made mistakes”, but said these were “not criminal”, and denied having taken bribes.
“Life is offering me today no simple test. I go towards it with great sadness,” he said.
The 70-year-old was convicted in March 2014 in a 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.
Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported that the Israel Prison Service had set up a special wing for him at the Ma’asiyahu Prison complex in Ramle.
Olmert will be held in Wing 10 and will be considered a “protected person” whose environment and contacts will be monitored.
Wing 10, a self-contained section, will reportedly supply all “prisoners’ needs, including visits, medical care, education and therapy”.
“The wing has six cells with three beds each. Each cell has a shower and bathroom, a closet, a table and chairs and a television,” Haaretz reported.
“There are public phones in the hall, a classroom/clubroom in the wing, a visitors’ room, two rooms for meetings with lawyers; a room that serves as a synagogue, a library, a dining room, a yard, sports equipment, and offices for a social worker and the wing director.”
The trial, which included 16 defendants and took place over two years, was linked to the construction of the large Holyland residential complex when Olmert served as the city’s mayor.
In 2010, Olmert was named as the key suspect in the so-called Holyland affair on suspicion that he received bribes totalling some $430,000, although the prosecution later reduced the sum received by about half.
Olmert was initially given a six-year sentence. However, upon appeal in December, he was cleared of the Holyland charge and his prison sentence was reduced from six years to 19 months.
He was forced to resign in early 2009 amid the allegations. His departure cleared the way for hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu’s election, and subsequent peace efforts have not succeeded.[Source: Al-Jazeera]