Olmert: My 'Hands Were Clean' in the Sale of State's Leumi Shares

In China, PM reacts to reports of possible criminal probe into his role in sale of Bank Leumi.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded Wednesday to media reports of a criminal investigation into his role in the sale of the state's controlling interest in Bank Leumi.

In a press conference in China, Israeli reporters asked Olmert if his "hands were clean" in the handling of the sale of Bank Leumi while he was finance minister.

"Absolutely yes," Olmert responded, and reminded reporters that Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer recently told the press that the sale was properly handled.

Olmert said he has not been informed of a decision to investigate him.

"Today a report was published, one which has been published numerously," he said. "When a descion is made, I will discuss it. From what I've heard, the Justice Ministry reacted in a different [way to the reports]."

On Tuesday, the Justice Ministry issued a statement saying: "We wish to make it clear that we have no intention of commenting on any report, news item or speculation regarding affairs involving the prime minister. When the decision-making process on these sensitive and complex matters, which is still ongoing, has ended, an orderly announcement will be made to the public."

Channel 10 television reported Tuesday night that the police intend to open more than one criminal investigation against Olmert; that all the probes will be handled by the same police unit; and that an official announcement would be made upon Olmert's return from China next week.

The Justice Ministry's decision-making process is complex, not only because of the cases themselves, but because of various subsidiary questions that must be addressed. For instance, should Attorney General Menachem Mazuz recuse himself from the Leumi decision, since his sister, Yemima Mazuz, is the Finance Ministry's legal adviser and was therefore involved in the sale? If so, can he legally delegate his powers to another ministry official, given that the law explicitly states that only the attorney general can order a criminal investigation concerning the prime minister? And if so, who should make the decision - one of the deputy attorneys general or State Prosecutor Eran Shendar?

Suspicions that Olmert, in his former role as finance minister, was improperly involved in the Leumi sale first came to light in a report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. The main evidence against him is apparently the testimony of Accountant General Yaron Zelekha.

As first reported in Haaretz, an opinion prepared by attorney Michael Karshan of the Justice Ministry recommended a criminal investigation against Olmert in the Leumi affair, on suspicion of fraud, breach of trust and other crimes. However, Shendar then decided that more information was needed, and asked the police to carry out certain inquiries as part of the process of deciding whether to open a formal investigation.

The suspicions involving Messer, Olmert's former law partner, were first published in Haaretz Magazine. That report stated that Olmert, while serving as industry minister, personally considered most requests by Messer's clients, and approved benefits worth millions for them. Olmert allegedly met with Messer's clients and with Messer himself to discuss their requests, and also discussed their requests with the relevant Industry Ministry staff. In no case did Olmert report to the state comptroller or the attorney general about a possible conflict of interest, nor did he ever recuse himself from involvement in such requests.

The third affair, of political appointments in the Small Business Authority, was also initially exposed by Lindenstrauss, but after his report was published, the comptroller obtained additional evidence, which he has passed on to Mazuz. The comptroller's office said that this new evidence raises "serious suspicions" that the appointments were illegal.