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23 May 2008 13:02
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was questioned by police for an hour on Friday, the second time this month that investigators have quizzed him over allegations he took bribes from an American businessman.
Investigators from the National Fraud Unit turned up early for a previously arranged appointment at Olmert’s official residence in Jerusalem. “They questioned him for about an hour,” police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said.
The scandal, which police and judicial sources say involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable cash payments over a decade from the early 1990s, broke three weeks ago when detectives moved at short notice to question Olmert on May 2.
The prime minister has faced a handful of inquiries recently into his past financial affairs as mayor of Jerusalem for 10 years until 2003, and subsequently as a Cabinet minister until he succeeded the ailing Ariel Sharon as premier in early 2006.
He has withstood all those challenges and said he did nothing wrong in his dealings with New York Jewish fundraiser Morris Talansky.
He has promised to step down if prosecutors can produce enough evidence to indict him.
Mass-selling Israeli daily Maariv said on Friday that police were trying to determine whether Olmert helped Talansky advance business ventures in South America.
“The prime minister is convinced that as this investigation continues it will become clear that he has done nothing wrong,” Olmert’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, said.
Talansky, who was questioned after he arrived in Israel on holiday last month, also denies wrongdoing.
A police source said on Thursday that Israeli investigators would travel to the United States “in the coming weeks” to continue the investigation in the Olmert case.
Olmert and his allies have stressed his importance both to Israel and internationally at the forefront of US-sponsored peace negotiations with the Palestinians and, as of this week, Turkish-mediated talks with Syria. Critics have suggested Olmert revealed the Syrian contacts to draw the sting of the scandal.
Olmert aides have suggested that the investigation has been prompted by right-wingers angered by negotiations with the Palestinians that could result, notably, in a deal to let the Palestinians site the capital of a new state in Jerusalem.
On Thursday evening, Olmert was interrupted during a speech by demonstrators angered by his latest initiative to open talks with Syria that, he has said previously, could mean Israel giving back the Golan Heights, captured from Damascus in 1967.
Olmert acknowledged earlier this month that Talansky raised funds for his two successful campaigns for mayor of Jerusalem in 1993 and 1998, a failed bid to lead the right-wing Likud party in 1999 and a further internal Likud election in 2002.
He has said that his former law partner handled the details, voicing confidence the attorney made sure proper procedures were followed. Israeli media reported that Friday’s questioning of Olmert focused on testimony that his attorney had given.—Reuters
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