Inquiries in U.S. Bolster Fraud Case Against PM

According to key official, 'case against Olmert has grown stronger,' following recent inquiries in the U.S.

Inquiries made over the past week in the United States by Israeli law enforcement representatives are strengthening suspicions of fraud and other crimes against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, say senior officials in the State Prosecutor's Office and the Israel Police.

Olmert is being investigated for allegations that he accepted illicit funds over many years from a Long Island businessman, Morris Talansky, who is the main witness in what has been dubbed "the envelopes case."

In his preliminary deposition in Jerusalem on May 27, Talansky testified that he gave Olmert $150,000, mostly in cash, for political campaigns and travel expenses. He denied receiving anything in return for the cash, which was allegedly conveyed in envelopes through third parties.

According to one key official, "the case against Olmert has grown stronger," following the inquiries in the U.S. Another senior official confirmed that impression, saying that "the case is progressing, and progressing nicely."

Unless an extension is called for, the inquiries will continue for the next two weeks, wrapping up before Talansky's cross-examination on July 17.

The team conducting the inquiries consists of attorney Uri Korev of the Jerusalem District Prosecutor's Office, and superintendents Lior Weiss and Tzahi Havkin of the National Fraud Unit. They traveled to New York, Washington, and Las Vegas to gather documents from banks and other sources, and to interview witnesses.

According to a senior law enforcement official, the trio flew to the U.S. on June 23 without waiting for the Justice Department's final permission, in order to speed up an American bureaucracy that was moving slowly because of a jurisdiction dispute between the federal government and local authorities. The impression in Jerusalem was that the decision to "create facts on the ground" indeed prompted the desired outcome.

Team members report back to their respective superiors. Korev answers to Jerusalem District Prosecutor Eli Abarbanel, who participates in consultations on the Olmert case with State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and his deputy for criminal affairs, Shuki Lemberger. Weiss and Havkin work for the National Fraud Unit chief, Brigadier General Shlomi Ayalon, who heads the team that twice has questioned Olmert, and is expected to question him a third time after Talansky's cross-examination.

Ayalon participates in consultations on the Olmert case by the heads of the police investigation and intelligence departments and their legal counsels.

When Korev, Weiss, and Havkin return to Israel, and after Talansky's cross-examination, the top brass and their aides will put together the case that will be officially handed over to Lador and Abarbanel, accompanied by the investigators' opinion on the viability of an indictment based on the evidence.

The latest reports on progress in the inquiries in the states have strengthened the assessment among law enforcement officials that the police will indeed recommend indicting the prime minister.

Despite attempts by Olmert and his lawyers to create a public impression to the contrary, the officials say, the case rests on strong evidence, and is growing stronger.