Ehud Olmert, once known for his work to relaunch peace efforts with the Palestinians, became Israel's first ex-prime minister to serve jail time Monday as he began a 19-month term for bribery and obstruction of justice.
Olmert, 70, entered the Maasiyahu prison in the central city of Ramle just before 10:00 am (0800 GMT), AFP journalists reported.
He was escorted to the prison by officers from Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency as a crowd of journalists watched from nearby. Israeli television broadcast live footage from outside the prison, with Olmert's case having transfixed the nation.
In a video message released on Monday morning before he began his sentence, Olmert maintained his innocence.
"You can imagine how painful and strange this change is to me, my family, loved ones and supporters," said Olmert, looking haggard and downcast. "I deny all the bribe charges attributed to me."
He added that "over the course of my extensive career I also made mistakes, though none of them were criminal by nature in my opinion. I'm paying dearly for some of them today, perhaps too dear.
"With a very heavy heart, I'm accepting my sentence today. Nobody is above the law."
He was initially given six years' prison in May 2014 for taking bribes in the early 2000s in connection with the construction of Jerusalem's massive Holyland residential complex, but the sentence was later reduced to 18 months.
Last week, an Israeli court handed him an additional month for obstructing justice. He admitted to the crime as part of a plea bargain in that case.
His prison sentence could still be extended further. The Supreme Court is still debating his appeal against a third sentence of eight months for fraud and corruption.
No stranger to VIPs
The prisons service says that block 10 has six cells, each with three beds, ensuite shower and toilet, a closet and a table, chairs and television.
There are public telephones in the corridor, classrooms and a block recreation room, a visiting room, two rooms for consultations with lawyers, a room used as a synagogue, a library, sports equipment, dining room, and yard.
On admission Monday, Olmert, like any other prisoner, will be photographed, searched, given a medical examination and interviewed by various officials, including a social worker.
Inmates are allowed to bring from home four pairs of underpants, four pairs of socks, two towels and two sweatshirts without hoods or lining.
They can also bring with them one blanket (not a duvet), two sheets, a pillowcase, and religious books and articles.
The prison, named for the biblical gatekeeper of the Jewish temple, is no stranger to VIPs.
Current interior minister Aryeh Deri spent 22 months there after being convicted in 2000 for taking bribes during a previous term in the same post from 1988 to 1993.
He returned to the interior ministry in January this year after his predecessor Silvan Shalom resigned over allegations of sexual harassment.
His one-time rival in the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, former health minister Shlomo Benizri, served six months in Maasiyahu after being convicted of bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice.
(staff with AFP)