Calls echo for Olmert to suspend himself

State Control C'tee chairman: No one can manage to run a country while under three investigations.

By DAN IZENBERG, JPOST.COM STAFF
October 15, 2007 09:44
Calls echo for Olmert to suspend himself

mazuz press 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

Calls echoed from across the political spectrum Monday for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to suspend himself, a day after Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz ordered police to launch a third criminal investigation into the affairs of the prime minister. State Control Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev called on Olmert to stand down and urged the prime minister to ensure that Mazuz and the police accelerate the investigations in order to bring them to a swift conclusion. "No one can manage to run a country while under three investigations, in addition to the Winograd report," Orlev told Israel Radio. MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) also called on Olmert to immediately suspend himself. In an interview with Army Radio, the Labor MK, who resigned as a minister in October 2006 after Israel Beiteinu joined the coalition, also called on Labor to pull out of the government. MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) said: "After reading the state comptroller's report into the allegations you will understand that the prime minister is a person who hands out money to his friends." Yacimovich (Labor) told The Knesset Channel that Labor must withdraw from the government while Olmert faced what she called "the most severe of accusations." "I expect us to stop being a fig leaf for a corrupt prime minister," she said, adding, "he cannot continue to lead a country." However, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai of Labor told Army Radio that despite the criminal investigations against Olmert the party would not quit the coalition. Meanwhile, Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan disagreed that the prime minister needed to stand down. "Olmert certainly does not need to suspend himself," he said. Public Security Minister Avi Dicher said: "I rely on the police to do its work faithfully and operate only according to the instructions of the attorney general." Likewise, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said that he "relies on the law enforcement institutions." The investigation will deal with various allegations involving conflicts of interest, cronyism and political appointments allegedly perpetrated by Olmert between 2003 and 2005, while he was serving as minister of industry and commerce under then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. Intelligence and Investigations Division chief Cmdr. Yohanan Danino was expected to decide Monday on the unit that is to deal with the investigation and he was set to discuss the probe with Mazuz. Police are already investigating Olmert regarding his actions in the sale of the controlling share of Bank Leumi and for alleged misconduct in the purchase of his home on Cremieux St. in Jerusalem's German Colony. "The main suspicions include Olmert's involvement in the decisions of the [Industry and Commerce Ministry's] Investment Center, and in political appointments and other help to political supporters in various public bodies, which allegedly took place during his term as minister of industry and commerce," read a statement issued by Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen. "The suspicions are based on all the material that we gathered on these matters, including state comptroller reports regarding the Investment Center and the Authority for Small and Medium Businesses, the material gathered during these investigations, and additional information from other sources," Cohen said, referring also to investigative reports on Olmert's activities published by Ha'aretz and Channel 10 News. The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement calling the new investigations, as well as the previous one, "unnecessary." "It is clear without a doubt in our eyes that these investigations will conclude with nothing," the statement said. "Today's decision means that, for all intents and purposes, every suspicion raised against the prime minister will in fact be investigated by the police." At the same time, the statement said, these investigations would not keep Olmert from being completely and energetically involved in his responsibilities as prime minister. Two of the affairs set to be investigated have already been examined by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. In both cases, Lindenstrauss sent his findings to Mazuz so the state attorney could determine whether they raised suspicions of criminal activity on Olmert's part. In both cases, Mazuz ordered a preliminary examination to determine whether there was enough evidence to justify a full-fledged police investigation. The first report, published on August 27, 2006, involved the Authority for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses. Lindenstrauss found that Olmert and his director-general, Ra'anan Dinur, had changed the rules of the authority and appointed a woman with close political ties to Olmert as the deputy director-general. She, in turn, appointed at least three project managers who were members of the Likud Central Committee. They were allegedly appointed according to improper procedures and without giving others a fair chance to vie for the jobs. The second report, published on April 25 of this year, involved a decision by the Investment Center to grant an "approved industry" status to Silicat Industries, Inc., which was represented by Olmert's former law partner and close friend, Uri Messer. The status entitled the company to government benefits for construction of a silicate-producing factory in Dimona worth $48 million. Later, Olmert allegedly knocked $10m. off the guarantee the company was obliged to deposit with the government and at least another $1m. off the cost of infrastructure development for the site. Silicat Director-General Efraim Feinblum came to the defense of the prime minister, telling Army Radio on Monday morning that there was no link between Olmert's friendship with Messer and the Investment Center's decision. In both cases, the Justice Ministry spokesman pointed out, the state comptroller's findings were not enough in and of themselves to warrant a police investigation. However, the preliminary examinations ordered by Mazuz uncovered additional material that strengthened the suspicions against Olmert. Regarding the investigation into Olmert's involvement in the Investment Center and the alleged favoritism he showed Messer, the Justice Ministry mentioned that among the additional material it checked was an investigative report by Ha'aretz reporter Gidi Weitz on August 30, 2006. According to the report, Olmert had intervened in most of the Investment Center applications filed by Messer's clients and granted the candidates benefits worth millions of dollars. In its statement, the Justice Ministry also announced that police would investigate allegations from a February 6, 2007 report by Raviv Druker of Channel 10. According to the report, Olmert's aides had drawn up a list of benefits - including jobs, favors and perks - that members of the Likud Central Committee had asked of Olmert. The list included the name of each person, the nature of the request, and a progress report on what stage the aides had reached in meeting it. Channel 10 reported last Monday night that during the examination, the state prosecution had followed up and verified some of the instances in which favors had been requested and granted. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.


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