Double-billing / Frequent Liar

Thursday, 8 P.M., the fourth floor of the Tel Aviv District police station on the corner of Salameh and Kibbutz Galuyot Streets. Police Commissioner David Cohen is sitting in his office with the head of the Police's National Fraud Unit, Shlomi Ayalon. Both look tired and pale.

Ayalon is wearing civilian clothing and sneakers and holding a black bag full of plastic-covered documents ready to be handed to the subject of the investigation, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the following morning. For four weeks, they have kept their secret. Police spokesmen Rafi Yafe and Yehuda Maman are just outside, following the news closely and jotting down reports on the progress in the investigation against Olmert.

At the same time, in the Justice Ministry's building in Jerusalem, the scene repeats itself. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador are holed up in an office with a number of prosecutors and their spokesman. They, too, managed to keep mum over the Rishon Tours suspicions.

Meanwhile, Olmert, who has managed to postpone his interrogation by three weeks and was hoping to delay it until after he returns from France two weeks from now, did not have any handy answers. Even if the prime minister may somehow have learned of the suspicions against him and therefore was not completely surprised, none of the other suspects seemed to have known of anything in advance.

The affair involving Morris Talanski led to the Rishon Tours suspicions. Olmert claimed that some of the funds he received from Talanski, in addition to funding his political campaign, were used to pay for his trips abroad. Investigators who sought to determine whether his claims were true, found the prime minister's version did not hold water. Police then seized the documents recording Olmert's travel expenses.

Yesterday morning police held an assessment meeting on the progress of the investigations against the prime minister. Senior investigators believed they could complete the probe by "the end of August, or the beginning of September," lock, stock and barrel, including Talanski, and hand their recommendation to the state prosecution. But later yesterday they changed their mind: Now they think that the Rishon Tours investigation can be completed first and without any delay and pass the ball on to Mazuz. The attorney general, who prefers not to be the driving force behind the resignation of a prime minister, is waiting for the politicians to make a move. But those politicians, in turn, are waiting for Mazuz.

According to the police and state prosecution, the facts are simple and deplorable. Olmert, who was supposed to be entirely devoted to the public, found a stint. He double- and triple-billed first-class trips, during which he stayed at fancy hotels and honed his skills talking about the poor, the needy, Israel's troubles and so on. Olmert made an illegal profit speaking about Holocaust survivors, wounded kids and soldiers.

Unlike Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak, who, in the wake of their tenures as prime ministers, took time off from politics and made money from lectures, Olmert was forbidden from charging money as an acting minister. "A minister will not work, give lectures or hold talks for profit, unless it is so sanctioned by a committee," the law stipulates.

During his three years at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, Olmert went on 54 trips abroad, some 18 a year, or once every month and a half. In the history of humankind, only Vasco de Gama, Christopher Columbus and Captain James Cook have traveled more than Olmert. He allegedly double- or triple-billed on at least 12 occasions. To his friends, Olmert is a frequent flyer, but to the police he's just a frequent liar.

Shula Zaken, Ehud Olmert's former personal secretary, is facing an indictment, as is her brother, Yoram Karashi. Their court expenses could amount to hundreds of thousands of shekels. Xeroxing the 10 binders alone must cost at least NIS 100,000. That is why she must be tempted to cut a deal with the prosecution now. But her loyalty to Olmert has prevented her from doing so thus far. It seems that if Zaken agrees to a deal, it will involve closing the cases against her and her brother. Police will try to convince her that Olmert is beyond saving and that she cooperate with them.

Maybe he was not referring to her when he said this, but maybe it will inspire Zaken to break her silence: "The number of living witnesses is dwindling," Olmert once said. "We must now encourage every man and woman who was there to tell their story. Every document, every testimony, is important." Thus spoke Ehud Olmert at the Yav Vashem Holocaust memorial, free of charge.