PM: Hands are clean in Leumi affair
Won't comment on reports that criminal probe awaits him on return from China.
By DAN IZENBERG, JPOST.COM STAFF
January 9, 2007 20:21
2 minute read.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that his hands were entirely clean in the Bank Leumi tender affair, in his first official reaction to reports that the State Attorney's office planned to open a criminal investigation against him upon his return from China.
The prime minister added that he did not feel obligated to comment on rumors every time they resurfaced.
"Not only that, but the Justice Ministry put out an explanatory statement of its own," he said.
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Channel 10 reported on Tuesday night that the State Attorney's Office had decided to open a full-fledged investigation against Olmert regarding his alleged intervention in the government tender for the sale of the controlling interest in Bank Leumi.
Earlier, sources close to Olmert called the reports of the impending investigation "speculations," adding that "we have not received any official statement from an authoritative source on this issue," Army Radio reported.
They also said the prime minister had met with Attorney General Menahem Mazuz before leaving for Beijing on Monday, and that Mazuz hadn't mentioned the investigation at their meeting.
According to the allegations against him, Olmert intervened in the tender for the privatization of Bank Leumi on behalf of two personal friends with whom he also had business connections, American businessman Daniel Abraham and Australian businessman Frank Lowy.
A preliminary examination of the case was conducted by State Attorney Eran Shendar. Mazuz reportedly disqualified himself from involvement in the case because his sister, Yamima Mazuz, is the legal adviser of the Finance Ministry and was in charge of overseeing the tender process. Olmert allegedly intervened in the tender after replacing Binyamin Netanyahu as minister of finance.
However, Mazuz is responsible for at least two other examinations involving criminal allegations against Olmert. One has to do with his purchase of a private home on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem's German Colony. He is suspected of having bought the home for hundreds of thousands of dollars below the market price. In turn, he allegedly promised to use his influence at city hall, where he had served as mayor, to increase the contractor's building rights.
Another case involves allegations that Olmert made political appointments in the Small Businesses Authority when he served as Minister of Industry and Commerce under prime minister Ariel Sharon. According to Channel 10, Shendar has already decided to investigate Olmert in the Bank Leumi affair.
The full extent of the investigation has not yet been determined, however. While police will likely concentrate on the alleged Bank Leumi improprieties, it is possible that the other scandals to which Olmert's name has been linked will also be investigated.
In response to the television report, the Justice Ministry issued a statement saying: "We will not respond to any report, news item or speculation regarding the affairs linked to the prime minister. When the process of making decisions on these sensitive and complex matters is concluded, a process which is still going on, we will issue an orderly statement to the public."
Meanwhile, the Internet news site News First Class reported Tuesday that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will "soon" be sending a letter of caution to Olmert warning him of the suspicions against him in the administrative sphere.