Comptroller to Question Olmert and Wife on Alleged Benefits in Apartment Deal

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his wife, Aliza, will soon be summoned for questioning by the State Comptroller's Office on suspicion of receiving benefits worth some half a million dollars.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is looking into suspicions that the Olmerts were given an exorbitant discount on the purchase price of a garden apartment on Jerusalem's Cremieux Street. According to these suspicions, Olmert's associates worked to help the contracting company that renovated the house to obtain unusual permits from the Jerusalem municipality. These permits significantly increased the profitability of the project.

The affair was first published on the NFC Internet site, run by journalist Yoav Yitzhak.

The Prime Minister's Office said in response that "the prime minister has not received any request from the comptroller's office."

The Olmerts bought a garden apartment at 8 Cremieux Street in Jerusalem in October 2004, for a price of $1.2 million. According to the comptroller's findings, however, the apartment's true value is between $1.6 million and $1.8 million. Thus at the time of the sale, Olmert apparently received a discount worth between $400,000 and $600,000.

The building in which Olmert's apartment is located was defined as a historic preservation site. The building covers an area of about 330 square meters, and the contractor who sold the apartment to Olmert wanted to expand the building to cover an area of about 750 square meters. In order to do this, however, he needed a permit from the Jerusalem municipality to tear down the existing building and build it anew.

According to the material gathered by the comptroller, Olmert's associates helped the contractor to obtain the necessary permits from the Jerusalem municipality, and in the end, another two apartments - in addition to Olmert's garden apartment - were built in that building. Yitzhak claimed in his NFC report that the company sold Olmert his apartment for $3,306 per square meter, but it is asking significantly more for the other apartments in that project.

The State Comptroller's Office believes that the evidence amassed to date justifies summoning Olmert and his wife for questioning. The Olmerts will probably be questioned by a team of investigators from the State Comptroller's Office and by a retired police officer, Major General Yaakov Borovsky, who serves as the comptroller's adviser in his war against corruption. Soon after the couple is questioned, the comptroller is expected to submit his findings to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, so that the latter can decide whether to open a criminal investigation.

The Prime Minister's Office said in response: "The prime minister has not received any request from the comptroller's office. We have trouble believing that once again, the State Comptroller's Office has chosen to go to the media before going to the prime minister."

Associates of Olmert added that they were surprised by the comptroller's intention of summoning the prime minister's wife for questioning as well, since she does not hold any public office.