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Israeli police quiz Olmert in funding probe

Investigators questioned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at his home Friday about new allegations surrounding campaign donations he received from a U.S. citizen, Olmert’s office said.
Israel Olmert
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, shown attending a weekly Cabinet meeting on April 29, has been the linked to several corruption probes. He has never been charged.Ronen Zvulun / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Investigators questioned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at his home Friday about new allegations surrounding campaign donations he received from a U.S. citizen, Olmert’s office said.

The allegations are certain to further tarnish the unpopular leader who is a suspect in several corruption affairs.

Police and Olmert’s office would not provide details about the questioning, but the Israeli leader has been questioned in the past about real estate deals and questionable political appointments. He has never been charged.

A car carrying several police investigators in powder-blue shirts pulled up at Olmert’s official residence in Jerusalem at mid-morning. The session ended about an hour later, according to a statement from Olmert’s office that gave no further details.

The questions dealt with donations by an American citizen between 1999 and 2002, before Olmert was prime minister, according to a statement from Olmert’s office.

The money was meant to fund elections for the mayorship of Jerusalem and primaries in Olmert’s former political party, Likud, the statement said.

“The prime minister answered all of the investigators’ questions on the subject, and will continue to cooperate with all legal authorities to the extent he is required to do so,” the statement said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld would not disclose the subject of the questions.

Olmert “is convinced that with the discovery of the truth in the police investigation, the suspicions against him will dissipate,” a statement from Olmert’s office released Thursday said.

Call for Olmert to suspend himself
But Shelly Yacimovich, a member of Olmert’s ruling coalition from the Labor Party, called the scope of charges against Olmert “unprecedented” and said he should suspend himself immediately.

“It has been proven beyond any doubt that the prime minister can’t be under serial investigations and also suspected of crimes and also lead the country,” she told Israel Radio.

Olmert has been questioned several times in the past by police. In October, Israel’s attorney general ordered a criminal investigation into suspicions that Olmert acted improperly while he was trade minister. He is also suspected of improprieties in the purchase of a house in Jerusalem.

In November, police recommended closing another case involving allegations that he tried to steer a government bank sale in the direction of supporters.

Olmert allies also dogged by woes
Legal troubles have also dogged some of Olmert’s political allies.

Olmert’s finance minister had to step down under embezzlement suspicions and another close ally — now the country’s vice premier — was convicted of sexual misconduct for forcibly kissing a female soldier. Last month, a lawmaker from another party in Olmert’s coalition was convicted of accepting bribes.

The slew of charges have convinced many Israelis that their government is deeply corrupt. Since his 2006 election, Olmert has plummeted in public opinion polls, which now predict an easy victory for the opposition Likud party and a crushing defeat for Olmert and his Kadima party.

Elections slated for 2010
Israeli general elections are scheduled for 2010, but could be earlier if Olmert’s fractious coalition government falls apart.

Israel’s Channel 2 TV reported late Thursday that Olmert would be questioned under caution, an indication that police believe their interrogation could result in an indictment.

If Olmert is indicted, he would have to resign. A decision on formal charges, however, is at least months away.