AG: No Legal Grounds for Forcing PM to Quit

It is still too soon to decide whether there are legal grounds for requiring Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said yesterday, but his continued tenure is certainly a legitimate matter for discussion in the political and public realm.

Mazuz expressed this view in a letter to the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which had demanded that he declare the prime minister incapacitated and force him to step down.

According to the Attorney General's Office, there is still insufficient evidence to charge Olmert, or even to decide what offenses might be included in such an indictment.

"But in view of the public sensitivity of this situation, enormous efforts are being made to expedite the investigation and the decision-making in this matter," the letter added.

Meanwhile, the key witness in the fraud investigation against Olmert, American fundraiser Morris Talansky, returned to Israel yesterday for his granddaughter's wedding, which is scheduled to take place on June 11. Attorneys for Olmert and his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, are slated to cross-examine Talansky in the Jerusalem District Court on July 17, and there is no indication that they will request that the date be moved forward so that the cross-examination could take place on the current visit.

Talansky left Israel last Wednesday after having testified to the court that he transferred large sums of cash to Olmert over the course of the past 15 years. During those years, Olmert served as mayor of Jerusalem and minister of industry and trade.

Talansky estimated that he gave Olmert as much as $150,000 in cash during those 15 years. But the prosecution has submitted documents indicating that the actual sum transferred was more than $400,000, much of which was deposited in a trust fund managed by Olmert's former partner, attorney Uri Messer.