The significance of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's message to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he is "considering" indicting him for allegedly using state funds to finance private family trips abroad lies in the precedence it constitutes. For the first time in Israel's history, a police probe into the actions of a prime minister has reached a stage where the state attorney is considering indicting him.

The wording of the message - of "considering" the indictment - is a recent development. It was first used in August 2006 in reference to Vice Premier Haim Ramon. Before that, the standard announcement was that the attorney general has decided to indict the person in question "pending a hearing." The change came following a comment by the High Court of Justice, which noted that the former wording indicated a determination to indict, whereas the attorney general needs to be willing to change his or her decision following a hearing.

Indeed, in the case of former president Moshe Katzav, the attorney general completely reversed his position following a hearing, but that was the exception to the rule. In most cases, hearings do not result in nixed indictments.

Before the hearing, the prime minister will presumably receive a draft of the indictment and access to the relevant evidence. The attorney general's detailed statement is most probably the draft of the indictment he is "considering" filing. The content of that announcement is especially harsh and jagged: The prime minister is said in it to have known about receiving funding from various bodies for his flights, and of issuing orders to present "false displays" to the funding bodies.

The offenses attributed to the prime minister - including fraudulent receival of goods under aggregated circumstances, false registration in corporate documents, breach of trust and fraud - are severe, and carry a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Olmert's constitutional status is unaffected by this. Yesterday's decision has no legal consequence as far as the prime minister's ability to preside is concerned. In fact, as the head of a transitional government, Olmert is unable to resign. Even if he takes leave, he will still retain all his powers as prime minister.

The attorney general could declare Olmert as unfit to preside, but from his announcement is seems that Mazuz views the question of Olmert's eligibility as a public matter, and not as a legal issue.