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Police: Indict Olmert on corruption charges

Israeli media are reporting that Israel's police are recommending indictments against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a string of corruption cases.
Image: Ehud Olmert
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in April as he attends a state ceremony to honor the memory of late former presidents and prime ministers at the president's residence in Jerusalem. Gali Tibbon / AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Israel's police recommended Sunday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should be indicted in a string of corruption cases, according to an official document.

The police statement said they want to indict Olmert in affairs that include receiving tens of thousands of dollars from a U.S. businessman and double-billing Jewish groups for trips abroad.

The police recommendation would have only limited effect. The decision about whether to indict Olmert rests with the attorney general, Meni Mazuz. In the past, Mazuz and his predecessors have turned down police recommendations to indict Israeli leaders several times.

The political effect of the police recommendation is also limited. Already in July, Olmert announced he would resign later this month because of the multiple corruption investigations. Though he has been dogged by corruption charges through his long public career, Olmert has never been indicted and has denied all wrongdoing.

The police recommendations cover affairs that occurred before Olmert became prime minister in 2006. The charges include receiving bribes, breach of public trust, money laundering and others, according to the police statement.

Recommendation of 'no value'
Olmert's lawyers issued a response just as the police statement was issued. It said the police recommendation is "of no value," because the attorney general makes the final decision, noting that a Supreme Court justice spoke out against the practice of police passing a recommendation along with the results of their investigations.

"We will wait patiently for the decision of the attorney general," the statement said. "Unlike the police, he is aware of the heavy responsibility he holds."

One case focuses on Morris Talansky, a 76-year-old American Jewish businessman who testified that he handed envelopes stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars to Olmert before he became prime minister, in part financing a luxurious lifestyle of expensive hotels and fat cigars.

The police statement said, "The investigation found that Talansky transferred to Olmert over the years from 1997 and on, large sums of money in different ways, in cash and illegally." It said in return, Olmert promoted Talansky's businesses.

Talansky gave lengthy public testimony for days in a Jerusalem courtroom, defending his allegations under cross-examination by Olmert's attorneys — although Olmert has never been formally charged with a crime.

The second case concerns charges that that Olmert double and triple-billed trips abroad to Jewish institutions, pocketing the difference or financing trips for relatives.

The statement said that among the organizations "swindled" in the double-billing were the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial authority and the Soldiers Welfare Fund.

"In this manner Olmert received tens of thousands of dollars that were kept for Olmert at the Rishon Tours travel agency and used to fund his private flights and those of his family."

Will resign after new leader selected
After months of police investigations and reports on the corruption cases, Olmert announced on July 30 that he would not run in this month's primary election in his Kadima Party and would submit his resignation after a new party leader is chosen.

If Olmert's successor as party leader can form a coalition, Israel could have a new government in October. If not, an election campaign could extend into 2009. Olmert would remain in office until a new premier is chosen, heading a caretaker government after he submits his resignation to President Shimon Peres.

Israel's labyrinthine political system is weighted against a quick internal Kadima resolution to the crisis — with hard-line ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud waiting to take advantage. Netanyahu opposes most concessions to the Palestinians and Syrians suggested by Olmert.

Olmert's Kadima Party has only 29 seats in the 120-member parliament, and his successor must patch together a coalition with a majority. Olmert's main partner, Labor, is headed by another ex-premier, Ehud Barak, who would like his old job back and may be more comfortable forcing an election than playing second fiddle to Livni.

Barak, currently Israel's defense minister, supported Olmert's decision and left open the possibility that he might seek to replace him.

At Sunday's weekly meeting of Israel's Cabinet, Olmert and Barak had a bitter exchange over loyalty to the government, according to Israeli media.