x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Police allegations threaten Olmert

Police accuse the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert of pocketing tens of thousands of dollars by deceiving multiple sources.

Ehud Olmert pictured at a state ceremony in April. Police have released a statement revealing fresh corruption allegations against the Israeli prime minister.
Ehud Olmert pictured at a state ceremony in April. Police have released a statement revealing fresh corruption allegations against the Israeli prime minister.

JERUSALEM // Police have revealed stinging new allegations against the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, accusing him of pocketing tens of thousands of dollars by deceiving multiple sources into paying for the same trips abroad. The latest revelations came just after police questioned Mr Olmert for a third time in a widening corruption probe - and made it even harder for him to hold on to his job and carry out peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria. Police said Mr Olmert is suspected of obtaining US$100,000 (Dh367,300) before he became prime minister by getting multiple sources - including the state, public organisations and charities - to pay for identical trips abroad so he could pocket the difference.

The allegations were the most damaging for Mr Olmert since May when police accused him of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash-stuffed envelopes from an American entrepreneur when he was a cabinet minister and mayor of Jerusalem. Police said yesterday they were widening their investigation to include the funding of trips abroad. Mr Olmert has consistently denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers are hoping that their cross examination next week of the key witness in the case - the American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky - will bolster the prime minister's fortunes.

In a stunning deposition in May, Talansky testified that he handed Olmert hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash-stuffed envelopes over the course of years, and that some of that money went to fund expensive cigars, hotels and other luxuries. Mr Olmert's backers note that he's been written off before only to re-emerge intact. This is the fifth major corruption case against him and few thought he'd survive the fallout from his much criticised handling of the war in Lebanon which broke out two years ago.

Nevertheless, the weight of the corruption probes taken together, combined with the prime minister's rock-bottom approval ratings and Friday's highly embarrassing disclosures can only be described as overwhelming. Mr Olmert has said that he will resign if indicted. After police questioned the prime minister for two hours at his official residence in Jerusalem, the police and Justice Ministry issued a statement saying Olmert, "while serving as mayor of Jerusalem and as minister of industry and trade, is suspected of seeking funding for flights abroad in his official capacity from several sources at the same time ... including the state."

Each of these sources was asked to pay in full for the same flight, it added. Police suspect that the "considerable sums" that remained after the flight was paid for "were transferred by Olmert to a special account [his] travel agency administered for him. "These monies were used to finance private trips abroad by Olmert and his family." Through a spokesman, the prime minister insisted he had broken no laws.

"Prime Minister Olmert is convinced that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and firmly believes that as this investigation continues, that innocence will become apparent to all," said Mr Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev. *AP