(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Attorney Yaakov Ne'eman, who brokered the sale of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's home to American businessman Daniel Abraham in 2004, asserted Wednesday morning that the deal was "completely kosher."
"This was an absolutely standard sale," Ne'eman told Army Radio, adding that "nothing prevents a public figure from selling his home at the market price."
Ne'eman said that in his opinion, using a legitimate home sale as election propaganda was an unfair attempt to harm a public official.
The attorney denied claims that Olmert sold his home to Abraham for an inflated price, and emphasized that Olmert continues to occupy the house until the one he is building in Jerusalem's German Colony is ready, and that Olmert pays Abraham a fair rent. Ne'eman insisted that both the sale and rental prices were done in accordance with a professional appraisal that was done shortly before the contract was signed.
Olmert on Tuesday also denied any wrongdoing regarding the sale of his home to the American Jewish billionaire, a transaction currently under investigation by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus.
Earlier in the day, Lindenstraus confirmed that he was looking into the sale of Olmert's Jerusalem home in January 2004 following the discovery of new details that had come to his attention a few days earlier.
"Both the previous and current state comptrollers received precise details about the sale of the house, the rental of the house, the price of the sale and even exactly how we spent all the money we received for the house, how much each of our children received," Olmert said in an interview with Channel One television.
Meanwhile, Lindenstraus' spokeswoman, Shlomit Lavi, told reporters that, "as a result of a letter he received, the state comptroller had renewed the examination of the sale and asked Olmert for several documents including the sale contract." She refused to provide more details.
The key question under investigation is whether or not Olmert received an excessive amount of money from the purchaser, Abraham, and whether the sale involved a hidden exchange of favors.
The daily Ha'aretz reported that it triggered the investigation by supplying the state comptroller with new details regarding the sale including the fact that the company that purchased the house was registered in the Virgin Islands and that it was owned by Abraham, the founder of the Slim Fast Foods diet food company. Abraham has reportedly contributed to the election campaigns of several politicians including Olmert.
Olmert sold his home on Rehov 29th of November in Jerusalem's prestigious Katamon quarter for $2.7 million. He supplied some details about the sale as part of the annual mandatory report on his and his family's wealth, property, income, debts and other information submitted by ministers and deputy ministers to the state comptroller since 2003.
Abraham also reportedly agreed to rent the house to Olmert until 2010 for $2,600 a month. The house has a floor space of 460 square meters.
In 1993, Abraham contributed NIS 193,000 to Olmert's campaign for mayor of Jerusalem. Ha'aretz reported that Lindenstraus will also look into the relations between the two men.
Ha'aretz was planning to publish a report on the sale of Olmert's house in an investigative piece scheduled to appear in the paper's weekend magazine. The newspaper reported on Tuesday that Lindenstraus decided to reinvestigate the house sale as a result of questions that the paper submitted to him last week in preparing the report. On Tuesday, however, the internet news site News First Class pre-empted Ha'aretz by breaking the news of the state comptroller's investigation.
According to Ha'aretz, the price tag of $2.7 million was high for the area at the time of the sale, but not necessarily unreasonably so.
A well-placed source told The Jerusalem Post that Olmert originally wanted $4 million for the house but eventually had to settle for the price he received from Abraham. Insiders say that since Olmert and his wife, Aliza, did not own the entire building, their initial asking price was unreasonable. The apartment above the Olmerts' belongs to former Finance Minister Ya'acov Ne'eman.
The Olmerts are currently building a new home on Cremieux St. in Jerusalem's German Colony. The cost of the new home is estimated at NIS 5 million, or a little less than $1 million.
In addition to the question of whether Abraham paid an excessive price for the house, there is also a question about the terms according to which he allowed the Olmerts to remain in the house after he bought it. Ha'aretz quoted real estate expert Kobi Bier as saying that Abraham could have easily rented the house for $5,000 per month, almost twice as much as Olmert is paying.
Olmert aides charged that the questions raised about the sale and rental of the house were false allegations that came up at this time because of the election race.
Meanwhile, the Likud issued a statement saying, "the public deserves answers to the questions raised in the scandal before they go to vote."