Tuesday July 22, 2014
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22.07.2014
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On her way to jail, Zaken sheds light on Olmert's culpability
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Amnon Straschnov

The criminal 'elite'

Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, was tried on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and sentenced to six years in prison.

But it's not over yet. This saga will be on our minds for years to come, but already there are several general observations that can be made about all white collar criminals, not just Olmert:

1. I fear that Olmert's trial, and the serious sentence he received, will not prevent the next big corruption case. Many years ago, Asher Yadlin, once a senior member of the Labor party, was sentenced to five years in prison for taking bribes; former Zim director Michael Tzur was sentenced to 15 years; Israeli banker Yehoshua Ben-Zion was sentenced to 18 years for embezzlement and theft; former minister Shlomo Benizri was sentenced to four years for bribery, and the list goes on.

Ostensibly, one would think that these sentences would deter public officials from committing these types of crimes, if only for fear of being heavily punished by the courts. But in reality, they do not. Research shows that criminals generally fear getting caught; the type of punishment that awaits them is all but irrelevant. The court's penalties, be they tough or lenient, have a marginal deterrent effect, and in all likelihood won't stop future white collar criminals, unfortunately.

2. Around here, there is no public or social denunciation of white-collar crimes, including bribery, fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and the like. While a burglar or violent criminal are seen as actual criminals who should be kept away from society for long periods of time, white-collar criminals are considered "elite criminals," something from another realm. What better proof than the fact that when these white-collar criminals complete serving their sentences, they are reappointed to positions of power in public service and the media?

Here are a few examples: Aryeh Deri, who was convicted of bribery among other things and served three years in prison, has returned to the Knesset with the hopes of becoming a minister and even prime minister. Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, who was convicted and served time in jail, has returned to public life and has been offered a warm embrace by the media (he even has his own radio show). These "elite" criminals are widely covered in the media, and some of them even become commentators themselves. They are granted public legitimacy of which they are entirely unworthy. This sends an extremely negative and flawed message to the public, and particularly to the young.

3. Finally, I believe that our own society is also to blame. MKs, the voting public, the media and the general population all fail time and again in selecting our public officials. We don't expect our leaders to be geniuses (because they are not). We only expect them to be decent, and not commit crimes. Perhaps the lesson for the future is that before we select someone for high office, we should thoroughly investigate their past to see if there is any hint of corruption, vetting them in advance to make sure that there is no personal or public blemish. That is how it is done in the U.S. and many other civilized countries, and there is no doubt that this method is effective in preventing corrupt appointments. If we had adopted this system in the past, perhaps we would have been spared this Olmert fiasco.

Amnon Straschnov is a retired Tel Aviv District Court judge and former military advocate-general.

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