Sat, May 03, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Israeli police question prime minister

AGENCIES , JERUSALEM

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks in the Chagall Hall in the parliament in Jerusalem on Thursday.

PHOTO: EPA

Police questioned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert under caution yesterday as part of an inquiry into suspected corruption.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Olmert was being questioned in his Jerusalem residence, but declined to provide any further detail on the case or explain why the meeting had been held at short notice.

Israel’s attorney general on Thursday gave investigators special permission to conduct yesterday’s questioning. A legal source said that what was unusual about the session was that it was ordered at such short notice.

Olmert, who has been the subject of three corruption investigations relating to his conduct before he became prime minister in 2006, has denied any wrongdoing.

A statement issued by Olmert’s office on Thursday said the prime minister has freed an hour from his schedule for the questioning and said he is planning to “fully cooperate with law enforcement officials in the same manner he did in the past”.

Olmert is under criminal investigation into accusations that he dispensed favors in return for a discount on the 2004 purchase price of a home in Jerusalem. Olmert has described the allegations as “needless.”

He is also being investigated over allegations that as trade minister in 2003, he appointed allies to a state business authority.

He has said the suspicions are baseless.

The Yediot Aharonot daily said the latest affair was uncovered only recently by the authorities.

The mass-circulation paper claimed the affair involved large sums of cash being given to a US businessman who is being investigated and who implicated Olmert when he was questioned during a recent trip to Israel.

The Maariv daily earlier said yesterday’s interrogation of the prime minister would be led by the head of the National Fraud Squad, Lieutenant Commander Shlomi Ayalon.

In November, police said they did not have enough evidence to continue a months-long investigation into allegations of abuse of influence over the sale of the country’s second largest bank.

The probe had focused on suspicions that Olmert, when acting finance minister in 2005 under former prime minister Ariel Sharon, tried to steer the sale of Bank Leumi towards a friend, Australian real estate baron Frank Lowey.

Bank Leumi was eventually sold to another company with no relation to Lowey.

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