Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is embroiled in a series of corruption scandals, May 4 2010
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is embroiled in a series of corruption scandals, May 4 2010 Photo by Haaretz
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The State Prosecutor’s Office has prepared a draft indictment against former prime minister Ehud Olmert accusing him of making political appointments in his previous posts as industry minister, communications minister and finance minister. Olmert is already standing trial in three other cases.

Yesterday, the office wrote to Olmert’s attorneys and invited them to a hearing at which they can try to persuade prosecutors to drop the charges. If the hearing fails to change the prosecutors’ minds, the indictment will be filed in court.

The planned indictment, which also charges former cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel, says that Olmert and Yehezkel, then one of his senior aides, worked “to advance the concerns of Likud Central Committee members and their cronies,” despite a conflict of interests. At that time, Olmert belonged to Likud, though he later switched to Kadima.
Olmert’s media adviser, Amir Dan, said the timing of the prosecution’s announcement “raises serious questions.”

Yehezkel served as Olmert’s right-hand man for years. Yet a few months ago, when the former premier was in the United States for a prostate operation, many in Olmert’s circle were surprised when Yehezkel visited him in the hospital, as relations between the two men had recently been tense.

The tension, explained one, stemmed from Yehezkel’s police testimony in the probe then in progress against Olmert: Yehezkel said that everything he did for the Likud Central Committee members was done on Olmert’s explicit orders.

In all the cases against him, Olmert’s defense has been that he was busy with affairs of state; he had no time to deal with details such as travel arrangements or central committee members’ demands. These details were handled entirely by his devoted aides, Shula Zaken, Rachael Risby-Raz and Yehezkel.

But Yehezkel’s police testimony undercut this alibi. Yehezkel described Olmert as being actively involved in such details, while portraying himself as having merely followed orders.

“I’m a civil servant. I execute orders and carry out instructions,” he told the police in the summer of 2008, when questioned about suspicions that Olmert had abused his position as industry minister to help cronies secure grants from the ministry’s Investments Center. “In every case, I acted on the minister’s instructions.”

Citing “many cases” in which Olmert intervened in the decisions of ministry professionals, he added that Olmert “dealt with requests, held meetings and worked directly with the professional staff.”

One interrogator commented that Yehezkel had worked with Olmert for years, but was now describing his job as “devoid of any initiative.”

“Correct,” Yehezkel replied. “In practice, a minister’s advisor is an aide.”
 

Yehezkel came to his job with Olmert with an impressive resume. He served in the army’s elite intelligence unit, 8200, which has produced many of Israel’s leading high-tech entrepreneurs, and was a lieutenant colonel in the reserves. He then became a popular teacher at Jerusalem’s prestigious Leyada high school, affiliated with the Hebrew University. He was widely respected for his combination of intelligence, impressive organizational skills and an ability to get along with people.

But according to the draft indictment, the use he made of these skills was less admirable: He was chief organizer of the various favors Likud Central Committee members received from Olmert’s ministries. The goal was to ensure that committee members, who at that time determined the party’s Knesset slate, would look kindly on Olmert and place him high on the list.

To secure these favors, police say, Yehezkel applied direct and indirect pressure on staffers in various agencies under Olmert’s auspices, such as the Investments Center, the Chief Scientist’s Office and the Israel Lands Administration.

And being an orderly person, Yehezkel documented most of his demands in notes or e-mails to these staffers.

For instance, when one Likud member requested a sizable government grant for one of his enterprises, Yehezkel passed the request on to then-Industry Ministry director general Raanan Dinur with the note: “Raanan Dinur − urgent, by hand. Ehud wants you to look into it personally and keep him posted.”

Other notes and e-mails also mention Olmert by name − as in this one, which Yehezkel wrote to a subordinate: “A project for you: Rami Rahamim, an important central committee member from Kiryat Shmona; we have to find him a job, Ehud promised him. Call him and say Ehud and I have set ourselves the goal of arranging it for him. Be nice, get details and break your head over how to fit him into some enterprise in the area.”

In August 2007, Haaretz published an investigative report on Yehezkel’s wide-ranging efforts to help Likud Central Committee members. Inter alia, it described pressure by Olmert’s office on ILA director Yaakov Efrati − who was recently arrested on suspicion of taking bribes in the Holyland corruption case.

In 2004, Olmert’s former bodyguard, Ariel Gon, began working as one of Efrati’s aides. One of his main jobs was dealing with requests, usually from central committee members, passed on by the then-industry minister’s bureau. Gon would sound out ILA professionals and arrange meetings with them for the central committee members.

A source who worked at the ILA at the time said that Gon and Yehezkel had regular meetings, of which they kept minutes. The minutes − which detailed the committee member’s name and request and how it was being handled − were later obtained by the police.

Yehezkel also wrote a memo to Dinur about planned personnel changes in the Government Employment Service. A source who saw that memo said it boiled down to a “wholesale appointment” of Likud Central Committee members to this agency.
Yehezkel told the police that all this was done at Olmert’s behest.

“I don’t owe anything to any Likud Central Committee member,” he said. “I’m not a politician, I have no interest in any political gain and I don’t need to score points with Likud Central Committee members. I did my job. I carried out the minister’s orders.”