View Full Version : New Olmert Criminal Probe Overshadows Peace Talks

05-06-2008, 08:05 AM
New Olmert criminal probe overshadows peace talks


By Middle East correspondent Ben Knight
Posted 10 hours 1 minute ago

Israel says it has made significant progress towards defining the borders of a future Palestinian state, but a new criminal investigation into Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is overshadowing the talks.

It is the third time in a month Mr Olmert has met with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

The talks have been pushed along by the United States, which wants an agreement before the end of the year.

An Israeli spokesman says negotiation teams are already working with maps and have made significant progress on borders and security issues.

But the talks have been overshadowed by the criminal investigation on Mr Olmert and a growing feeling that this and other corruption allegations against him will leave him powerless to push through the difficult concessions that will need to be made.

05-06-2008, 08:05 AM
State: Gag order on PM probe won't be lifted before Independence Day


By Ofra Eidelman, Tomer Zarchin, Nadav Shragai and Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondents

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador on Tuesday said the sweeping gag order placed over the new criminal probe into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will not be lifted before Independence day, which begins Wednesday night.

Lador stated this at a press conference at the Jerusalem District Court referred to the hearing held in the court over the possibility of investigating a foreign national over the affair.

Earlier Tuesday, the court allowed the publication of the fact that a request has been made for a foreign national's preliminary testimony in connection to the probe into Olmert.

This decision came after a sweeping gag order was placed Friday over details of the case.

Lador said that questioning a foreign national was "a routine part of the work in matters of this type, even though this case is slightly different. The court will soon publicize its decision."

The state prosecutor stressed that he joined the prosecution team in the hearing since case related to a serving prime minister.

According to an unofficial translation released by the Government Press Office, The Jerusalem District Court ruling stated: "With the agreement of the state and after the respondents' attorneys left the decision to the discretion of the court, we direct that at this stage, it may be published that a request has been filed to depose a foreign national."

"There is nothing in this to attest that an indictment has been submitted against the respondents in the request ? Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and [Olmert's former bureau chief] Ms. Shula Zaken. This is an investigation that began in recent days and the request is necessary given the circumstances under discussion," the judges added in the court statement.

Despite new details on the case coming to light through the Jerusalem court's ruling, the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court on Tuesday rejected a petition to lift the comprehensive gag order on the police probe.

Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, said Tuesday the prime minister remains very focused on his agenda.

Also Tuesday, the police's national fraud unit on Tuesday questioned Zaken, for the fourth time, in relation to the probe.

A major development was expected Tuesday in the investigation, the details of which cannot be revealed due to the gag order.

Zaken, considered a close and longtime associate of Olmert, is currently under house arrest, which will continue until Friday. She was also investigated by Police on Sunday.

The media has quoted senior law enforcement officials as saying that this affair is likely to remove the prime minister from office.

Meanwhile, Kadima Minister Yaakov Edri on Tuesday told Israel Radio said the investigation into Olmert should be concluded as quickly as possible, and for all uncertainties over it to be cleared up.

According to Edri, minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee, in the event of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz deciding to indict Olmert all possibilities should be examined, in what may be taken as a hint at the need to find a new leader for Kadima.

Edri also told Israel Radio that there have been probes into prime ministers in the past while political progress was made simultaneously, and therefore there was no need to rush into new elections.

Law enforcement sources on Monday said Tuesday's development may lead to an indictment against the prime minister.

They added that Zaken may be indicted for similar charges.

When the story first broke last week, Channel 1 quoted a senior legal source as saying, "Olmert is in a grave situation. It is doubtful whether he will be able to continue to hold his position."

Police on Monday, however, asked the media to moderate coverage of the affair, saying it was too early in the investigation to discuss an outcome.

Separate court procedures related to the investigation and to the gag order are expected to be held Tuesday.

A police source said law enforcement authorities will at this stage argue against a petition by Haaretz and other media outlets in favor of lifting the gag order.

"The investigation needs take precedent to the public's right to know, and I know what I am talking about," Police Commissioner David Cohen said. "The investigation team must be given leeway," he said.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Monday said he would follow the investigation closely and release information as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the investigation continued yesterday as investigators questioned several public individuals at the Bat Yam police station.

Police said they hoped to hand a recommendation to the State Prosecution over the affair as soon as possible.

"In a few days we will be able to determine whether the prime minister can be charged," a police source said.

"The investigation has been fast, relatively simple and so far a lot of significant material has been gathered."