Olmert Told Indictment May Include Talansky Charges

PM give last chance to testify over suspicions he accepted cash-stuffed envelopes from businessman.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Sunday informed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's attorney that he was considering filing criminal charges against the premier for allegedly accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from Jewish-American businessman Morris Talansky.

Olmert will have one last chance to testify, should he choose to do so, before a final decision is made on the matter. Olmert's former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, received a similar message from the attorney general on Sunday.

"The attorney general told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he was considering filing a criminal indictment against him over suspicions that he committed various offenses in the 'Talansky scandal,'" the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

In late November, Mazuz notified Olmert that he was considering indicting him in a separate case, where he is suspected of double-billing Jewish groups for trips abroad, then pocketing the difference or financing trips for relatives. and after that appearance, the attorney general will decide whether to indict.

Olmert's lawyers are scheduled for a final hearing before Mazuz in this case on April 19. No date has been announced for a hearing in the Talansky affair.

Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said officials would consider bundling multiple indictments in a single trial should Olmert be charged in more than one case.

Should Mazuz file charges, Olmert would become the first Israeli prime minister ever indicted. Olmert has denied any wrongdoing, and his spokesman Amir Dan said Sunday that any charges against the premier would be unfounded.

A string of corruption suspicions involving Olmert severely weakened him politically and forced him to announce his resignation late last year. He remains Israel's caretaker leader until prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu puts together a new government within the next few weeks.

Olmert is also being investigated in connection with a real estate deal and political appointments.Allegations of corruption have swirled around Olmert throughout his three-decade political career, but he has never been convicted of a crime.

Of the various allegations against Olmert, the most detailed have come Talansky, a New York businessman who testified in an Israeli court that he handed envelopes stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars to Olmert before he became prime minister, in part to help finance a luxurious lifestyle of expensive hotels and fat cigars.

Olmert is also suspected of having double-billed trips abroad, pocketing the difference or financing trips for relatives. Other allegations include a shady real estate deal and questionable political appointments, all before he became premier following Ariel Sharon's debiliating stroke in January 2006.

The prime minister was questioned under caution on Friday for the 16th time since police opened the investigations against him last year.