An Israeli court has spared Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, a prison term over a conviction for breach of trust, potentially paving his way for a political comeback.
Olmert was sentenced on Monday after being found guilty in July of of illegally granting favours to a businessman while in a former cabinet post, he was acquitted at the time of more serious bribery charges.
Jerusalem District Court handed Olmert a suspended one-year jail sentence and a $19,225 fine. Had he been put behind bars, the 66-year-old centrist politician might have been prevented from returning to public office.
Reading the 27-page ruling, Judge Mussiya Arad said Olmert was guilty of a “grave and absolute conflict of interest” and that the gravity of the case required “a practical response,” Israeli public radio reported.
“I leave court today walking tall,” Olmert told reporters, without elaborating on his plans.
“I said last time that in everything regarding the offences of which I was convicted I would respect the court’s judgement and learn the necessary lessons.”
Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry, reporting from Jerusalem, said Olmert had “dodged a bullet” with the court’s decision.
“He made it clear to the press when he left the courtroom that he feels vindicated,” Perry said.
“This really does pave the way for a potential political comeback.
“We will have to wait and see whether or not people on the streets here in Israel really still view him as corrupt, or view him as having nothing to do with the charges that were brought against him.”
Dogged by corruption scandals as he tried to forge a peace deal with the Palestinians, Olmert resigned in 2008.
After his conviction, Olmert, who denied all wrongdoing, said he had no intention of re-entering politics. Kadima, the party he once led, now heads the opposition to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s rightist Likud.
A comeback would likely depend on the outcome of a separate bribery case over Olmert’s role, as Jerusalem mayor from 1993 to 2003, in a controversial housing project.
“This is not over,” deputy Israeli state prosecutor Eli Abravanel said after Monday’s sentencing.
“The sentencing considerations are complicated in this case, they are unusual.
“We shall examine this ruling studiously, not make off-the-cuff statements. We shall see if an appeal is justified or not.”