Olmert reads statement 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert is facing the likelihood of a fourth indictment on charges that he handed out sinecures to senior Likud Party members whose political support he needed in the Authority for Small-and Medium-Sized Business while serving as industry, trade and labor minister in 2004 and 2005.
The decision to indict him is conditional on the outcome of a hearing which the state prosecution is offering Olmert's lawyers. Olmert waived his right to a hearing regarding three other affairs in which he has already been indicted, Rishon Tours, Talansky and the Investment Center.
"The head of the Economic Department in the State Attorney's Office informed the attorneys of Mr. Ehud Olmert and [then-cabinet secretary] Mr. Oved Yehezkel that…the possibility is being considered of trying them on criminal charges regarding suspicions that they committed violations in this affair," the Justice Ministry spokesman announced.
"The main suspicions are that throughout this period…the suspects exploited their status and prerogatives in the various ministries they controlled and acted, in a conflict of interests, in an organized, systematic and broad manner to advance the interests of members of the Likud Central Committee, Likud activists and their friends. They did this in order to do them favors and to please them by helping them find work...in order to strengthen Olmert's political position.
Olmert, who in addition to heading the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry also served at various times during 2004 and 2005 as deputy prime minister, finance minister and communications minister, allegedly handed out favors in various institutions, including Bezeq, the Postal Authority, the Employment Service, the Small- and Medium-Sized Business Authority and the Israel Lands Authority. He is also suspected of appointing Likud activists as public representatives in the labor courts.
The state is considering charging Olmert and Yehezkel with fraud and breach of trust, as well as with trying to influence those with the right to vote to vote for Olmert in return for the promise of future favors.
The hearing, if Olmert asks for one, will be held before Yehoshua Lemberger, deputy state attorney for criminal matters. Ministry officials said they would be considerate of Olmert within reasonable bounds, and try not to make things hard for him in view of the trial currently being conducted against him and "all the relevant circumstances."
The police questioned 400 witnesses during the investigation which grew out of a much smaller one conducted by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.
Lindenstrauss investigated political appointments in the Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses Authority, which is a non-governmental body whose budget comes entirely from the government via the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry.
In a report published in 2006, Lindenstrauss found that Olmert and his director-general, Raanan Dinur, changed the constitution of the authority so that it would be more flexible regarding the appointment of a chairperson and allocating the budget. "After that, charged the state-comptroller, "the heads of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry used the authority as a springboard for appointments based on political considerations and through improper procedures."
The heads of the ministry, including Olmert, subsequently appointed a deputy director-general for the authority who had personal and political ties to Olmert. One of her duties was to be responsible for projects. Soon afterwards, the authority established three new projects and appointed project heads for each. The state-comptroller found that all three project heads were members of the Likud Central Committee and that two of them had vied for the Likud secretariat. They were hired according to a procedure which was "not equal-opportunity and improper," Lindenstrauss charged. Two of the three projects had not been originally included in the authority's work program.
On October 14, 2007, then-attorney-general Menahem Mazuz ordered police to investigate the allegations against Olmert and others involved in this case and the Investment Center affair. Later, the state prosecution decided to separate the investigations, largely because Olmert's attorney and close friend Uri Messer, was involved in the Talansky and the Investment Center affairs.
In response to the Justice Ministry decision, Olmert's public relations spokesman Amir Dan, published the following statement and asked that it be published in full:
"1. The investigation into this matter began more than two years ago, and the timing of the prosecution's announcement at this precise moment raises hard questions with regards to the calculations and good faith of those responsible for it.
2. For the past three weeks, we have witnessed a campaign of
unrestrained incitement against Olmert by law enforcement elements even
though he has not even been interrogated at all about Holyland and
without being asked a single question. The publication of the decision
today is a direct continuation of the publications from the previous
weeks and is part of a prolonged and planned persecution campaign at a
time when we are fully in the midst of a trial. This announcement will
have a direct and improper influence and anyone asked to testify during
3. We are talking about a matter which has been blown
out of all proportion. There was nothing wrong with the procedure for
appointing these job-holders and many of them (in those cases where the
law requires it) were even approved by the Ravivi Committee, which is
responsible for investigating public service appointments. Furthermore,
no improper pressure was applied against anyone to approve these
appointments which were made in accordance with all the criteria
included in the law.
4. Does the law enforcement system really
have nothing else to do or no other way of making a name for itself,
other than by Olmert? It is surprising that the state prosecution has
not yet begun to investigate Olmert on suspicion that he did not cross
the street at a cross-walk?"