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Israeli court sentences ex-PM Olmert to 6 years

Israel
Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrives for his trial at the Tel Aviv District Court in Israel, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Olmert was sentenced on Tuesday to six years in prison for his role in wide-ranging bribery case, capping a stunning fall from grace for one of the most powerful men in the country. (AP Photo/Jack Guez, Pool)
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By Aron Heller, The Associated Press

TEL AVIV, Israel - Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced on Tuesday to six years in prison for his role in wide-ranging bribery case, capping a stunning fall from grace for one of the most powerful men in the country.

The Tel Aviv district court handed down the punishment in the Jerusalem real estate scandal case related to Olmert's activities before becoming prime minister in 2006. Tuesday's sentencing followed a guilty verdict that was handed down by the same court in March.

The 68-year-old Olmert, who stood stoically in the courtroom in a navy blue shirt, has insisted he is innocent and that he never took a bribe.

Olmert's spokesman Amir Dan said he would appeal both the verdict and the sentence to Israel's Supreme Court.

"This is a sad day where a serious and unjust verdict is expected to be delivered against an innocent man," Dan said, shortly before sentencing.

According to the verdict, millions of dollars illegally changed hands to promote a series of real estate projects, including a controversial housing development in Jerusalem that required a radical change in zoning laws and earned developers tax breaks and other benefits.

At the time, Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and was accused of taking bribes to push the project forward.

Olmert was forced to resign as prime minister in 2009 amid a flurry of corruption allegations.

At the centre of the case was the Holyland housing development, a hulking hilltop project that Jerusalem residents long suspected was tainted by corruption.

The case broke in 2010 on the strength of a businessman, Shmuel Dechner, who was involved in the project and turned state's witness. Dechner died last year from an illness.

The indictment against Olmert laid out one of the largest corruption scandals ever exposed in Israel.

It accused Olmert of seeking money, through a middleman, from Holyland developers to help out his brother, Yossi, who fled Israel because of financial problems. According to the indictment, Yossi Olmert received about $100,000.

Ehud Olmert was also accused of asking the middleman to help out city engineer Uri Sheetrit, who also had money woes. Sheetrit later dropped his opposition to the broad expansion of the Holyland complex, which burgeoned from a small development into a massive, high-rise project that sticks out from its low-rise neighbours. According to the indictment, Sheetrit received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

Among those also sentenced on Tuesday was Sheetrit, who was sent to prison for seven years. A series of other former government officials, developers and businesspeople were sentenced to terms of between three to five years.

Judge David Rozen ordered all those sentenced to appear before the prison service on Sept. 1.

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