x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Olmert questioned for fifth time

Israeli prime minister, who last week announcing plans to resign, is questioned by police over bribery and fraud allegations.

JERUSALEM // Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who last week threw Israeli politics into turmoil by announcing plans to resign, was questioned by police for a fifth time today over bribery and fraud allegations. Mr Olmert declared on July 30 that he would not run in his ruling Kadima party's internal election on Sept 17 and will step down after a successor is chosen. Police are examining allegations that he took bribes from an American businessman and made double claims for travel expenses while he served as trade minister and Jerusalem mayor. Mr Olmert has denied any wrongdoing.

The session at Mr Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem lasted three hours, an hour longer than planned, a police spokesman said. Hiss lawyers spent five days cross-examining American fundraiser Morris Talansky, who testified he gave the Israeli leader cash-filled envelopes. Talansky's cross-examination will resume on Aug 31 and Sept 1. Mr Olmert has vowed to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians and Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria until his last day in office.

Advisers said Olmert could stay in office for months as caretaker premier, long enough to continue the peace talks, but rival politicians have said he lacks the mandate to commit Israel to any deals. Four Kadima ministers have launched campaigns to replace Mr Olmert, with the foreign Minister Tzipi Livni leading the pack and the transport minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defence chief, close behind her.

Olmert has faced numerous investigations into his financial affairs from his 10-year stint as mayor of Jerusalem, ending in 2003, and then as a cabinet minister until he succeeded the ailing Ariel Sharon as prime minister in early 2006. *Reuters