(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
After months of investigations and speculation, police recommended on Sunday evening that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should be charged with bribery, breach of public trust, violation of anti-money laundering legislation and fraudulent receipt of goods.
According to former National Fraud Unit investigator Dep.-Cmdr. (ret.) Boaz Gutman, Olmert will likely be formally charged in December.
The police recommendations are based on two probes. The first examined Olmert's role in the Talansky cash-envelopes affair, in which Olmert is said to have illicitly received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Long Island investor Morris Talansky in exchange for advancing the mogul's business interests. Olmert's promotion of Talansky's business led to the recommendation to indict him for bribery, police said.
The second investigation, into what is known as the Rishon Tours affair, found that Olmert had acted illegally in double-billing charities and a government ministry for the same flights, sending them false receipts and using the excess reimbursements to pay for personal family travel.
Police said a third investigation, known as the Investment Center affair, in which Olmert is suspected of having granted large state investment funds to a company that his close associate and former law partner Uri Messer was hired to represent, was almost complete, pending one more interrogation session that would be scheduled soon.
"In the Talansky affair, an apparent basis of evidence has been consolidated against [the] prime minister, Mr. Ehud Olmert: that he received bribes, committed fraud andbreach of public trust by a public official, and violated anti-money laundering legislation," police said.
"In the Rishon Tours affair, an apparent basis of evidence has been consolidated against the prime minister [showing] that he fraudulently received goods under aggravated circumstances, committed breach of public trust, and other offences. The tax aspects that arise from the affair will be dealt with separately," police added.
Police officials briefed the Justice Ministry on their findings, which in turn briefed Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz.
The material regarding the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs will now be handed over to the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office, where the district attorney for criminal affairs, Eli Abarbanel, will head the investigation. Abarbanel will submit his recommendation on whether to indict Olmert and pass it on to State Attorney Moshe Lador, who will then present his opinion to Mazuz for a final decision.
Earlier, chief investigator Cmdr. Yohanan Danino, Lahav Unit (433) chief Cmdr. Yoav Saglovitch and the head of the National Fraud Unit, Dep.-Cmdr. Shlomi Ayalon, held meetings with investigators and legal advisers at the Israel Police national headquarters in Jerusalem.
At the end of the meetings, Danino and Saglovitch adopted the National Fraud Unit's recommendation that the prime minister be indicted.
Olmert's former bureau secretary, Shula Zaken, should also be charged for her role in helping Olmert receive bribes, commit fraud, breach public trust, and violate anti-money laundering legislation in the Talansky affair, police said.
Zaken should also be charged for her participation in the fraudulent receipt of goods under aggravated circumstances and breach of public trust in the Rishon Tours affair, police added.
Olmert's spokesman Amir Dan said, "It is a shame that the police has not learned a thing from previous affairs in which it made grand statements and it ended with modest voices. The police's aim should be not to make headlines and engage in PR for itself."
Dan said that when the police's findings reached court, "as we have seen from Talansky's testimony, the picture changes completely and things look very different. The police has no choice but to recommend an indictment, because it must justify the fact that it brought down a ruling prime minister."
The police said its investigation into the Talansky affair began during the course of a separate investigation into the Investment Center allegations, when police recovered Shula Zaken's diaries.
Zaken's diary entries "raised suspicions of an improper financial relationship between Mr. Olmert and Moshe (Morris) Talansky... in which attorney Uri Messer, Olmert's associate, and Shula Zaken... were involved."
During six interrogation sessions with the prime minister, Olmert denied the allegations, but did not disprove them, police said. From 1997 on, "substantial" amounts of money were illegally transferred to Olmert, when he served as an MK, minister, Jerusalem mayor, and acting prime minister, police said.
Police provided in-depth detail into how Messer acted as a cashier on behalf of Olmert, keeping Talansky's money and distributing it when needed.
"At first, the money was kept in a safe in Messer's office, in accordance with a request by Olmert and Zaken. Later, the money was kept in a Bank Leumi safe. Shula Zaken handed the money in cash form to Messer. From time to time, Messer was asked to transfer money to Zaken and/or Olmert. On a number of instances, Messer was asked to convert a certain amount of dollars and transfer the money to Zaken or Olmert," police said.
In the Rishon Tours affair, police said the investigation revealed that between 2002 and 2006, Olmert, using members of his bureau and the Rishon Tours travel agency, double-billed public bodies for overseas travel and presented falsified receipts to the organizations, which transferred funds to him.
Olmert allegedly defrauded the Soldiers Welfare Association, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, the National Association for the Rehabilitation of the Mentally Handicapped in Israel, and Aleh, an organization which cares for disabled children.
Olmert amassed tens of thousands of dollars by double-billing those organizations, police said, adding that the funds were kept for him at the Rishon Tours travel agency and used to pay for his and his family's personal travel.
"Evidence shows direct involvement by Olmert in giving instructions and monitoring the instructions leading to the billing of excess funds," police said.
Public Security Avraham Dichter (Kadima) said following the police recommendation to indict Olmert that an early election would not be needed.
"Kadima will continue to rule after the [September 17] primary. Anyone who will be elected in Kadima's primary will manage to form the next government."
Dichter spoke at a political rally in Holon.
"We have seen Shas and Labor voting against the budget, but really they wanted it to be approved. The State of Israel doesn't need elections and Kadima will continue to rule also after the primary," Dichter added.
MK Arye Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party) said, "The police decision was long anticipated. It is unbearable how long it takes for justice to be done. This alleged criminal will continue to run the state's affairs until the police investigators and the prosecution finish their job by indicting and convicting Olmert.
"The attorney-general must immediately declare the prime minister's incapacity."
Meretz Chairman Haim Oron called on Mazuz to submit his own opinion on indicting the prime minister.
"The police announcement includes the severest accusations that can be made in reference to a public figure. I call on the attorney-general to submit his opinion to allow the political and the justice systems to act in accordance," Oron said.
MK Yossi Beilin, (also of Meretz), told The Jerusalem Post he would oppose a national unity government whether or not there was a general election.
"I hope [Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni will be elected and I hope she will be able to form a central-left government that will be dedicated to continuing the peace process."
Shelly Paz contributed to this report.
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