updated 3/1/2009 4:10:46 PM ET 2009-03-01T21:10:46

Israel's attorney general notified Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday that he plans to indict him on suspicion he illicitly took cash-stuffed envelopes from a Jewish-American businessman — a sensational case that gripped the country and turned public opinion so sharply against the Israeli leader that he was forced to resign.

Before any final decision on an indictment is made, Olmert will be offered a last chance to try to persuade Attorney General Meni Mazuz not to charge him, Mazuz said in a news release. The attorney general is already considering bringing Olmert to trial in a second corruption case.

Five corruption cases are pending against Olmert in all, and he has denied wrongdoing in every one. His spokesman Amir Dan predicted Sunday that the charges against the prime minister would "disappear in the end."

Police have questioned him 16 times
No Israeli prime minister has ever stood trial. But the sight of police cars arriving at Olmert's official residence have become a routine affair, with police questioning him 16 times in recent months in connection with the various investigations.

All the cases predate his becoming prime minister in January 2006, when he was mayor of Jerusalem and minister of industry and trade.

The most stunning of the allegations against Olmert came from Morris Talansky, a 76-year-old New York businessman who testified in an Israeli court last year that he handed envelopes stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars to Olmert, in part to help finance a luxurious lifestyle of expensive hotels and fat cigars.

Olmert has said the funds were legal campaign contributions. But Talansky's testimony did major political damage to Olmert, shredding the little credibility he had left with the Israeli public after the flawed 2006 war in Lebanon and prompting his resignation in September. He has remained in office pending the formation of a new government after Israel's Feb. 10 parliamentary election, sometime within the next few weeks.

Mazuz's statement, released Sunday evening, said "the attorney general informed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ... that he is considering indicting him on criminal charges on suspicion he committed various crimes in the affair known as the Talansky case."

Charges could include fraud, breach of confidence
Mazuz said Olmert abused his public position to reap monetary benefits from Talansky and to help Talansky with his business ventures. If indicted, charges would include fraud and breach of confidence, the statement said.

In late November, Mazuz notified Olmert that he was considering indicting him in a separate case, where he is suspected of double-billing Jewish groups for trips abroad, then pocketing the difference or financing trips for relatives. Olmert's lawyers are scheduled for a final hearing before Mazuz in this case on April 19, and after that appearance, the attorney general will decide whether to indict.

No date has been announced for a hearing in the Talansky affair.

Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said officials would consider bundling multiple indictments in a single trial should Olmert be charged in more than one case.

Olmert is also being investigated in connection with a real estate deal and political appointments.

Allegations of corruption have swirled around Olmert throughout his three-decade political career, but he has never been convicted of a crime.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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