Olmert to face corruption probe

Chief prosecutor to investigate claims that prime minister influenced bank sale.

    The investigation will consider Olmert's alleged use of political influence while acting finance minister [AP]

    Use of influence

     

    The website of Ha'aretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, said the investigation will focus on suspicions that Olmert, when acting finance minister in 2005, tried to direct the tender for the sale of the bank toward Frank Lowey, a real estate businessman, and another close friend.

     

    "According to what I've heard from the justice ministry, there is nothing going on, so there is nothing I should react to"

    Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister

    The bank was eventually sold to another company with no relation to Lowey.

     

    Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a decision would be made later Tuesday about which police unit would carry out the investigation.

     

    Olmert was informed of the decision Tuesday afternoon. Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin refused to comment.

     

    Ha'aretz said police opened an unofficial inspection into the suspicions two months ago. The newspaper said Shendar opted for a criminal investigation after Menachem Mazuz, the attorney general, removed himself from the case due to the fact that his sister, Yemima Mazuz, is a legal adviser at the ministry of finance.

     

    Davd Chater, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said that the allegations were potentially extremely damaging to public confidence in Israeli politics.

     

    "The [allegations] are adding to the sense of paralysis at the heart of the Israeli government, because the whole of the top echelon at the moment seems to be mired in lots of scandal.

     

    "It could damage the peace process at a very crucial time - when Condoleezza Rice [the US secretary of state] is trying to add new momentum to the peace process. This kind of scandal will absolutely undermine those efforts," he said.

     

    Long process

     

    After the investigation is completed, its findings would be turned over to the attorney general's office, which would have the final say about whether an indictment would be filed. The process is likely to take months.

     

    Speaking to reporters in Beijing last week, where he was on an official visit, Olmert refused to make any comment on the reports.

     

    "According to what I've heard from the justice ministry, there is nothing going on, so there is nothing I should react to," he said.

     

    He insisted that he had "acted clean-handedly" over the privatisation of the bank.

     

    "I have no doubt that the process was conducted in the best way possible," he said.

     

    The prime minister has been the subject of several corruption investigations involving property deals and appointments. No formal charges have been filed against him.

     

    Olmert's ratings are at their lowest since he became prime minister in May 2006. A poll published last week showed Olmert's approval ratings have slipped to 14 per cent and that his Kadima party would lose nearly two-thirds of its strength if new elections were held.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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