/ 12 July 2008

Olmert questioned again in corruption inquiry

Israeli police say they suspect the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, of ”serious fraud” after questioning him for a third time on Friday as part of a widening corruption investigation.

Olmert, who is facing his fifth investigation since taking office two years ago, has not been charged with a crime and says he has broken no law. He has said he will resign only if he is indicted.

Police have been investigating claims that Olmert breached party funding laws by accepting donations from an American businessman over the past decade, mostly through envelopes filled with cash.

After questioning Olmert for more than two hours on Friday, police said they would look, in particular, at the fact that while he was mayor of Jerusalem and then trade and industry minister he asked for ”duplicate funding for his trips abroad on public duty from several public bodies, including the state, with each of them requested to fund the same trip”.

”The travel agency which handled Olmert’s trips produced and sent invoices to each of the funding bodies … as if each of them was solely funding the trips,” the police statement said.

Police said the funding was ”significantly greater” than the cost of the trip. The remainder was put into a special private bank account in Olmert’s name and used to fund his private trips abroad, including those with his family.

Police said their investigation was at an ”advanced” stage.

Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem for 10 years until 2003, when he joined the Cabinet of the then prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

Olmert’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, said the prime minister was ”convinced of his innocence”. Morris Talansky, the businessman who has testified that he gave $150 000 in cash to Olmert over several years, is due to be cross-examined next week.

Olmert’s Kadima party will hold internal leadership elections in September and some are urging Olmert not to stand again. Opinion polls suggest a new leader will be chosen, probably Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister. — guardian.co.uk