Enough evidence has been amassed against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that an indictment could be filed against him within days, police sources claimed on Monday. In theory, that could lead to his ouster from office even before new elections are held on February 10.
But Olmert, addressing the opening of the Knesset's winter session on Monday, stressed that for now, he remains prime minister in every respect until a new government is formed in the wake of the elections. "There are decisions to be made and a state to be run," he said. "The decisions will be made, and the state will be run."
The police sources' claim was based on depositions taken in the United States over the last few days in the double-billing case (also known as the Rishon Tours affair, named after the travel agency), in which Olmert is suspected of billing two or more nonprofit agencies for the same flights abroad and then using the extra money to finance private trips for himself and his family. The investigators are slated to return to Israel by the end of this week.
Police have already recommended indicting Olmert in this case, but the prosecution asked investigators to fill in a few holes in the evidence before deciding on whether to file charges. According to a police source, however, the new depositions merely confirm the earlier evidence on which police based their initial recommendation to indict.
It is not yet clear whether prosecutors will want Olmert questioned again on the case, which could delay a decision for another few weeks. Sources in the State Prosecutor's Office said only that the office would make a final decision on the case as soon as possible.
Police have also recommended indicting Olmert in the case of American-Jewish businessman Morris Talansky, who has admitted to giving the prime minister cash-filled envelopes containing some $150,000 over a period of many years. That case hit a potential snag over the summer when Talansky refused to continue testifying lest his testimony lead to his indictment in the United States. Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel therefore accompanied the police investigators to the U.S. last week and plans to meet this week with U.S. Justice Department officials to see whether they might be willing to give Talansky some sort of immunity.
But even if no immunity deal is reached, police sources said on Monday, they still consider it feasible to indict Olmert in this case as well.
However, regardless of whether Olmert is indicted or not, he remains a lame duck, as he officially resigned his post last month. Initially, he remained in office, while his successor as head of the Kadima party, Tzipi Livni, tried to form a new government, but on Sunday, Livni informed President Shimon Peres that she was unable to do so. Now, he remains in office as head of a transition government until new elections are held - which, Peres announced yesterday, will be on February 10.
By law, Peres could have delayed this decision for three days while he tried to find someone else who might be able to form a government. However, he informed the Knesset yesterday, after consulting with all the factions, that he sees no chance of this happening, and is therefore calling new elections immediately.
The date he chose - February 10 - is a week earlier than what had been predicted: Most pundits had expected a date of February 17. However, it is still a week later than the earliest possible legal date of February 3. If it so desires, the Knesset could still pick a different date, but most factions seem to be content with February 10.
In response to Peres' decision, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik plans to propose that the legislature dissolve itself at the end of next week - a mere two weeks after the start of the winter session, and a week before it is legally obligated to do so. She will consult with the heads of all the factions on this proposal today, but there seems to be broad agreement among Knesset members that the house should dissolve itself soon, to prevent a flood of populist legislation in the run-up to the election.
Even after the Knesset is dissolved, its committees will still meet as necessary, but the plenum will convene only if a special session is called.
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