Police: Gag Order on Probe Against Olmert to Be Lifted, Partially or Fully, on Thursday

Police also say foriegn media leaks about key witness make order 'lose significance'.

Police officials said on Wednesday that the gag order imposed on the ongoing criminal investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be lifted, partially or fully, by Thursday evening.

The attorney general, State Prosecution officials and police investigators met Thursday to discuss what aspects of the gag order, placed Friday on all details surrounding the case, could be relaxed. Any amendment will be subject to a court decision.

On Tuesday, police said that leaks coming from the foreign media regarding the investigation "undermined" the gag order on the case and rendered it "losing its significance."

The New York Post on Tuesday revealed details on the probe on its Web site, including the name of a foreign national summoned by police for questioning, but these details are banned in Israel.

When asked about the point of the gag order, in view of what the foreign press has published, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador said, "the court knows."

Olmert's attorney, Eli Zohar, said on leaving court: "The gag order certainly damages the prime minister, but our position could be understood as if we want to harm the investigation. And so we are wavering, and decided to leave the matter up to the court."

Earlier Tuesday, Lador said that the sweeping gag order would not be lifted before Independence Day, which begins Wednesday night and ends 24 hours later.

"This is an investigation in which any assumption by the public would be incorrect and unsubstantiated," Lador said. "In recent days, inaccurate information has been reported and it is misleading the public. It's a shame."

Lador, who spoke to reporters at a press conference at the Jerusalem District Court, commented on the hearing held in the court over the state's request to question a foreign national over the affair.

Earlier Tuesday, the court allowed the publication of the fact that a request has been made for a foreign national's preliminary testimony in connection to the probe into Olmert.

Lador said that questioning a foreign national was "a routine part of the work in matters of this type, even though this case is slightly different. The court will soon publicize its decision."

The state prosecutor stressed that he joined the prosecution team in the hearing since case related to a serving prime minister.

According to an unofficial translation released by the Government Press Office, The Jerusalem District Court ruling stated: "With the agreement of the state and after the respondents' attorneys left the decision to the discretion of the court, we direct that at this stage, it may be published that a request has been filed to depose a foreign national."

"There is nothing in this to attest that an indictment has been submitted against the respondents in the request - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and [Olmert's former bureau chief] Ms. Shula Zaken. This is an investigation that began in recent days and the request is necessary given the circumstances under discussion," the judges added in the court statement.

Despite new details on the case coming to light through the Jerusalem court's ruling, the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court on Tuesday rejected a petition to lift the comprehensive gag order on the police probe.

Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, said Tuesday the prime minister remains very focused on his agenda.

Police: Lifting gag order on PM probe would hurt public interest

Police said that lifting the sweeping gag order over details of the probe would harm the public interest on Tuesday, as not in keeping with the sensitive public mood on the eve of Memorial Day.

"I think that publicizing the details of the allegations, which are undoubtedly very serious, on the eve of the Memorial Day, would harm the public interest," said Superintendent Iris Barak, a police spokesperson. "Nobody wants to hear such things on a national day of mourning."

Jerusalem Magistrates Court on Tuesday morning rejected a petition by Haaretz and Channel 10 television to lift the gag order on the details of the criminal investigation into Olmert.

The gag order prohibits the publication of details of the probe, over which Olmert was questioned under caution last Friday.

Justice Daniel Beeri ruled that the order will remain in effect until it expires on Sunday.

Attorney Mibi Mozer, on behalf of Haaretz, told the court that the gag order creates an imbalance between the necessity to refrain from perverting the course of justice, and the public interest to be informed of the nature of the allegations against the prime minister.

Channel 10's representative, Attorney Yoram Bonen, told the court that the allegations had already been published by Yedioth Ahronot, and could also be found on the Internet.

Chief Superintendent Hagai Ben-Arieh, representing the police, said that the public debate could wait, whereas an investigation led astray could not be rectified.

Ben-Arieh also said that the law enforcement agencies appreciate the significance of the public interest, and have therefore only issued a temporary gag order. He accused the media of flagrantly breaching the order, which according to him affected the course of the investigation.

Judge Beeri said that he decided to reject the petition "having taken into account the substantial damage that might be caused if the order is modified."

Also Tuesday, the police's national fraud unit on Tuesday questioned Zaken, for the fourth time, in relation to the probe.

A major development was expected Tuesday in the investigation, the details of which cannot be revealed due to the gag order.

Zaken, considered a close and longtime associate of Olmert, is currently under house arrest, which will continue until Friday. She was also investigated by Police on Sunday.

The media has quoted senior law enforcement officials as saying that this affair is likely to remove the prime minister from office.

Meanwhile, Kadima Minister Yaakov Edri on Tuesday told Israel Radio said the investigation into Olmert should be concluded as quickly as possible, and for all uncertainties over it to be cleared up.

According to Edri, minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee, in the event of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz deciding to indict Olmert all possibilities should be examined, in what may be taken as a hint at the need to find a new leader for Kadima.

Edri also told Israel Radio that there have been probes into prime ministers in the past while political progress was made simultaneously, and therefore there was no need to rush into new elections.

Law enforcement sources on Monday said Tuesday's development may lead to an indictment against the prime minister.

They added that Zaken may be indicted for similar charges.

When the story first broke last week, Channel 1 quoted a senior legal source as saying, "Olmert is in a grave situation. It is doubtful whether he will be able to continue to hold his position."

Police on Monday, however, asked the media to moderate coverage of the affair, saying it was too early in the investigation to discuss an outcome.

Separate court procedures related to the investigation and to the gag order are expected to be held Tuesday.

A police source said law enforcement authorities will at this stage argue against a petition by Haaretz and other media outlets in favor of lifting the gag order.

"The investigation needs take precedent to the public's right to know, and I know what I am talking about," Police Commissioner David Cohen said. "The investigation team must be given leeway," he said.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Monday said he would follow the investigation closely and release information as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the investigation continued yesterday as investigators questioned several public individuals at the Bat Yam police station.

Police said they hoped to hand a recommendation to the State Prosecution over the affair as soon as possible.

"In a few days we will be able to determine whether the prime minister can be charged," a police source said.

"The investigation has been fast, relatively simple and so far a lot of significant material has been gathered."