Israel frees shamed ex-premier Olmert

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Olmert, left, leaves prison

Shamed Israeli ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert was freed from prison on Sunday after being granted parole in a corruption case that reduced his sentence by a third.

The country’s first former premier to serve jail time, did not speak to reporters when leaving the Maasiyahu prison in central Israel, the AFP reported.

Wearing a dark-coloured T-shirt, he was seen exiting the jail shortly after dawn on Sunday before being driven away.

The decision to release him came after Olmert was recently rushed to hospital after experiencing chest pains in prison.

The former premier underwent examinations which determined he was healthy and he returned to prison after a number of days.

A picture of a gaunt Olmert in hospital robes eating from plastic utensils found its way to social media, evoking a wave of sympathy from the public as well as politicians calling for his early release.

The 71-year-old, premier between 2006 and 2009, was convicted of graft and sentenced to 27 months imprisonment. He entered prison in February 2016.

Olmert was granted early release by a parole board on Thursday and prosecutors decided not to appeal the decision.

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

Olmert won international acclaim for relaunching peace efforts with the Palestinians at the Annapolis conference in the United States in 2007, but they failed to bear fruit and the corruption charges against him have come to define his legacy.

The parole board said last week that while Olmert’s crimes were “severe,” he was “punished for his deeds and paid a heavy price.”

“The inmate underwent a significant rehabilitation process in prison and displays motivation to continue it,” it said.

“All this significantly diminishes the risk he will deviate again from honest practice.”

Even after his release, Olmert could still face new criminal charges, though some Israeli media reported that the probe is expected to be dropped.

Last month, the state attorney’s office instructed police to investigate suspicions Olmert had smuggled a chapter of a book he was writing out of prison, an act that would constitute a felony due to the “secretive” content, the justice ministry said.


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