View Full Version : Israeli Police Grill Olmert In Corruption Probe

10-09-2007, 08:32 AM
Israeli police grill Olmert in corruption probe


4 hours ago

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was grilled by police on Tuesday over his alleged abuse of influence in the privatisation of Israel's second largest bank two years ago.

Police investigators arrived at Olmert's Jerusalem residence around 0700 GMT to question the premier, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

"He is the last person to face the investigators in the Bank Leumi affair," he said.

The questioning is part of a criminal probe that was ordered by Attorney General Menahem Mazuz in January into the 2005 privatisation of Bank Leumi.

Police suspect that Olmert, then acting finance minister under former prime minister Ariel Sharon, tried to steer the sale of Bank Leumi toward his friend, Australian real estate baron Frank Lowey.

The bank was eventually sold to another company with no relation to Lowey.

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing.

"The prime minister is certain that at the conclusion of the investigation it will be revealed that all the decisions he had taken in the privatisation process were professional... and he had acted properly," his office said in a statement this week.

The Bank Leumi investigation is one of two criminal probes faced by the 62-year-old premier who was hailed as one of Israel's most able politicians when he formally assumed office in May 2006 following Sharon's stroke.

Two weeks ago the attorney general ordered an investigation into Olmert's 2004 purchase of a Jerusalem home. The premier is suspected of having received an effective bribe when he bought the property for an estimated 300,000 dollars below market price. He has denied the charges.

The premier has been the subject of several corruption inquries since last year, none of which have resulted in any charges filed.

Observers say that the two criminal probes are unlikely to reverse the trend of Olmert's rising ratings, which plunged following last year's inconclusive war in Lebanon and a string of graft scandals involving senior government officials.

These have included a sex scandal involving former president Moshe Katsav, a graft investigation that has forced the resignation of finance minister Avraham Hirshson, and a probe into alleged corruption in the tax authority that forced the resignation of Olmert's personal secretary and close aide of 30 years, Shula Zaken.

The last opinion poll released three weeks ago showed that the premier had the support of 35 percent Israelis -- still lowly but a dramatic improvement on the single-digit ratings he was given for months.

"The latest Olmert investigation will take the course of other affairs; it will just drift from one shelf to another," said an editorial in the YNet news website two weeks ago.

And on Tuesday, the media reported that a government commission investigating the devastating 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah will not make any personal recommendations in its final report due later this year.

"Olmert will be harshly criticised in the report, but there will be no recommendation to dismiss him," wrote the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot in comments echoed by other media. "The prime minister can heave a sign of relief."

The premier is the only senior leader who has held on to his post despite what the Winograd Commission called widespread failures in its interim findings released in April.