(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Amidst burgeoning criticism over the government's handling of the war in Lebanon, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Sunday urged Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to launch a criminal investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for illicit political appointments the premier allegedly made when he served in his previous position as Industry and Trade Minister, the Justice Ministry said.
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing in the case.
Olmert, Lindenstrauss spar over war probe
The recommendation by the government's top watchdog, which comes days after a public tiff between the two men over the scope of the state comptroller's separate probe into the Lebanon war, was likely to spell more trouble for the beleagered premier less than four months after he took office.
By law, the state comptroller's recommendation to open a police investigation must be endorsed by the attorney general.
Mazuz is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to open a criminal investigation in the case after the state attorney's office decides if there is enough evidence of criminal offenses.
In a Sunday letter, the state comptroller wrote the attorney general that he identifies "suspicions of crimes" in the high-profile case, the Justice Ministry said.
His recommendation reverses an earlier opinion he proffered, which did not include the critical criminal probe of the premier.
The State Comptroller spokeswoman Shlomit Lavi declined comment Sunday.
Olmert named four political allies to key jobs in a state-funded agency in his previous position as industry minister, a recent state comptroller's report found.
According to the comptroller's report, Olmert named four cronies from the Likud to key positions in the Small Business Administration, which is not a government agency, but receives state funding.
Olmert's associates said that they prefer that the attorney general investigate the issue and not the state comptroller, who is at loggerheads with the premier over the war probe.
Concomitantly, the State Comptroller is also investigating a separate Jerusalem property deal involving the Olmerts.
The Jerusalem property deal dates back to October 2004 when the Olmerts purchased a luxury apartment in the city's upscale German Colony, at what critics contend was a below market price in exchange for favors.
The property affair gathered steam after the comptroller reportedly found that Olmert bought the garden apartment for 1.2 million dollars when the apartment was actually worth between 1.6 million and 1.8 million dollars.
The investigative journalist Yoav Yitzhak who broke the story asserts that in return for the $400-000 - $600,000 property discount, Olmert's associates worked to help advance the contractor's construction projects in Jerusalem.
The contractor, who completely denied the allegations, has said that he intends to sue Yitzhak for libel.
The State Comptroller's spokeswoman said Sunday that this case was still under investigation.
A previous high-profile investigation into the sale of Olmert's former home to a billionaire US tycoon was dropped after the comptroller found that the $2.69 million sale price, which critics had said was above-market, was in fact reasonable.
Last week, Olmert said that Lindenstrauss will examine the homefront's level of preparedness prior to the war, while the state comptroller responded that any decision he makes on a future war probe does not require the premier's authorization, and that he reports only to the Knesset.