Olmert to face new quiz as police close in

By Anshel Pfeffer, May 16, 2008

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is to be questioned for the second time over allegations of bribe-taking, in an investigation that continues to widen.

Police sources have told the JC that they are convinced that there is sufficient proof of illegal money transfers of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the United States to Mr Olmert’s interests in Israel. However, they still have not found the primary source of the funds, or what Mr Olmert was alleged to have done with them.

The Prime Minister faces further investigation for alleged corruption

The latest scandal is the result of an investigation into the ties between Mr Olmert and his old friend and law firm partner, Uri Messer. A memo, written by Mr Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken, led to the questioning and house arrest of Mrs Zaken and the questioning of Morris Talansky, a Long Island-based businessman. Police now believe that Mr Talansky and Mr Messer allegedly served as a conduit for transferring money to Mr Olmert, and the two men are expected to be key witnesses. Police have also raided Mr Olmert’s previous offices in the Trade Ministry and Jerusalem City Hall.

Mr Olmert has denied ever receiving bribes, claiming that the money transferred by Mr Talansky had financed political campaigns. The Prime Minister placed the responsibility firmly on the shoulders of Mr Messer, saying that “I am confident that he ensured everything would be according to the law.”

“Messer’s office wasn’t a real law firm,” a Jerusalem lawyer told the JC. “Even simple things like preparing contracts were farmed out to other firms. Messer was simply in charge of putting people in contact with Olmert.”

Meanwhile, Jewish American businessmen Sheldon Adelson and S Daniel Abraham were questioned by police over connections with Mr Talansky.

While the investigation is ongoing, most senior Kadima ministers have pledged their support to Mr Olmert, as have main coalition partners, Labour and Shas. The exception is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the Vice Prime Minister, who has refrained from comment. But despite backbench disquiet, there is no concerted effort to unseat Mr Olmert. His potential rivals seem to be waiting for the investigation to reach a more significant stage.

Last updated: 9:26am, May 19 2008