Justice Ministry: Contrary to Reports, No Discussion of Olmert's Suspension

MK Shalom: Voters deserve a chance to elect 'more worthy' gov't; Top legal source doubtful PM can continue.

The Associated Press
Haaretz Service
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The Associated Press
Haaretz Service

The Justice Ministry on Saturday announced that a discussion in the wake of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's latest police interrogation did not include talk of his suspension from office.

MK Silvan Shalom (Likud) said on Saturday that he has been in contact with various Knesset members to try and get majority support for his proposal to disperse the current Knesset at the start of the summer session, in about two weeks.

According to Shalom, Olmert's government has reached the end of its road, and it is time to offer voters the chance to elect a better, more worthy government.

Labor Party MK Ophir Pines-Paz called on Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to publicize details of the latest allegations against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel Radio reported on Saturday, one day after police questioned the premier in Jerusalem.

"The attorney general ought to stand before the public and tell what is going on as soon as possible," Pines-Paz told Israel Radio on Saturday. "He should tell us what is happening, are the allegations justified, whether [the police] have evidence, and what exactly were the crimes."

Pines-Paz told Israel Radio that while the severity of any potential charges remains unknown, "there is no doubt that the attorney general is being cautious with regards to any suspicions against the prime minister, which would indicate that there is no doubt that we are talking about something serious and widescale."

"Many investigations started with much fanfare and ended with nothing, such as the investigation against the prime minister over the Bank Leumi affair," MK Yoel Hasson of Kadima told Israel Radio on Saturday. Hasson added that Olmert cooperated with authorities and answered every question asked by police.

Olmert was questioned under caution by police on Friday in connection to a new corruption affair, after which a senior legal source was quoted on Channel 1 as saying, "Olmert is in a grave situation, it is doubtful whether he will be able to continue to hold his position."

The subject of Friday's investigation was different from other corruption affairs in which Olmert has been suspected of involvement - relating to real estate deals and questionable political appointments - but over which he has never been charged.

The questioning, which took place at Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem, prompted a number of Knesset members to call on him to suspend himself pending the investigations.

Police began questioning the prime minister at 10 A.M., and continued for about an hour and a half.

MK Shelly Yachimovich, a member of Olmert's ruling coalition from the Labor Party, on Thursday 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.

Police would not disclose any further information on the case, citing a court-imposed gag order. Police opened an investigation against the daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, for breaking the gag order and publishing details of the scandal.

Likud party chairman Gideon Sa'ar, meanwhile, urged the Labor Party to quit the government coalition immediately, calling it a "government under constant suspicion."

"Olmert is the prime minister who has been investigated more than any other in the history of Israel. The Labor Party is responsible for the survival of the coalition and if it stands to present values, control of law and clean hands, it needs to quit immediately," the Likud MK said.

MK Zahava Gal-On also called on the prime minister to take temporary leave pending the proceedings of the investiagtions, Israel Radio reported.

Detectives from the national police fraud unit on Wednesday had asked to meet with Olmert urgently, within 48 hours. The summons were made after receiving special permission from the attorney general.

The police attempted to keep the questioning secret but it was reported last night by Channel 2 television news. Despite the report and despite previous promises by National Police Commissioner David Cohen and other senior police officials to notify the media in advance about Olmert's investigation, national police headquarters Thursday refused to comment.

"The prime minister intends to fully cooperate with law enforcement officials as he has in the past and he is convinced that once the truth is disclosed in the framework of the police investigation, the suspicions against him will disappear," a statement issued Thursday by the Prime Minister's Office said.

It is not known which affair Olmert was questioned about. In the past, it was reported that three concurrent investigations were being conducted against Olmert: the Investment Center affair, the affair surrounding political appointments in the Small Business Authority and the house on Cremieux Street affair.

Olmert has been questioned in the past under caution. Last October a police fraud unit team came to his home to take statements regarding changes in the tender for Bank Leumi. At the time, Olmert was suspected of having acted to alter the conditions of the tender to favor a friend, Frank Lowy, who was considering submitting a bid. Olmert was questioned for two days, following which he fell ill with a cold. In the end, the police announced that Olmert was not suspected of criminal behavior in connection with the affair.

A few months before that, detectives came to the prime minister's residence to hear Olmert's version of events vis-a-vis the Tax Authority affair. At the time the police announced that Olmert was not a suspect in the affair, but was merely being questioned over the appointment process for senior officials in the organization and over the role of his office manager, Shula Zaken, in the affair.

In November, the fraud unit conducted a major evidence-gathering operation relating to investigations against Olmert. One hundred detectives raided 20 different sites simultaneously, confiscating a large number of computers and documents. The material involved all three of the affairs reportedly being investigated.

Among the sites raided was the office of the minister of trade and industry and other offices in the ministry; the Israel Lands Administration; the employment bureau; the Small Business Authority and the Investments Center. Documents were also collected from the offices of attorney Uri Messer, the Alumot real estate developer, the postal authority and the Jerusalem municipality.

Police secrecy over Olmert probe leads to questions

Senior Israel Police officials and investigators maintained a veil of secrecy Thursday over the circumstances of the impromptu questioning of Olmert.

Police intended to keep word of the questioning secret from the public, yet the leak to Channel 2 TV caught the upper echelons of the police and the spokesmen off guard. Repeated inquiries from the press were met with no comment.

In the absence of an adequate explanation as to the reasons behind the surprise investigation, one can only speculate as to why the police chose this particular course of action: