(photo credit: AP [file])
More than 100 National Fraud Squad investigators searched nearly 20 offices Sunday morning, looking for evidence in three investigations against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Police sources said that while Olmert may have much to fear from allegations of cronyism and shady real-estate deals, the prime minister can heave a sigh of relief regarding the Bank Leumi affair.
Olmert is suspected of trying - albeit unsuccessfully - to rig the sale of the state's controlling interest in the country's second-largest bank in favor of two associates while he was finance minister in 2005. Channel 2 reported Sunday night, however, that police were expected to close that case without filing charges against Olmert.
The National Fraud Squad carried out near-simultaneous raids as employees arrived for work. Plainclothes detectives scanned files, removed documents and computer hard drives, and carried them out of the buildings in a long procession of brown cardboard boxes.
Among the offices searched were the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry; the Israel Lands Administration; the Jerusalem Municipality; the Israel Postal Company; the Investments Center; the Alumot construction firm; the Small Business Bureau; Anglo-Saxon Realty; and a number of law firms, including that of Olmert's close friend and former law partner Uri Messer.
The raids were carried out without warning, and - if most white-collar-crime investigations are any indication - probably signaled the conclusion of the undercover part of the investigations into the prime minister. Police at this stage usually detain key suspects for questioning to prevent them from interfering with any evidence not picked up in the sweeps or from tampering with witnesses.
At least two of the search's targets - Anglo-Saxon Realty and Alumot Co. - concerns the Cremieux house affair. That investigation - the second initiated against Olmert since he took office as prime minister - was opened in September when State Attorney Eran Shendar ordered police to launch a criminal investigation against Olmert on suspicion of bribery.
Olmert allegedly received favorable terms for the purchase of a home on Jerusalem's Cremieux Street in return for helping the contractor who sold it to him.
In April, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss sent Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz the draft of a final report on his investigation into the Cremieux affair and told Mazuz it was up to him to decide whether the facts warranted a formal criminal investigation.
According to Lindenstrauss's findings, Olmert and his wife Aliza purchased a home on Cremieux Street in the capital's German Colony neighborhood in 2004 for $1.2 million - $480,000 less than its market price. In return, Alumot allegedly benefited from Olmert's influence in the Jerusalem Municipality to get permission to construct additions to the building in which the apartment is located.
Among those named in Lindenstrauss's report as acting "directly or indirectly to speed up and approve the complex and complicated procedures to obtain the permits" were several senior municipal officials: city engineer Uri Sheetrit; Osnat Post, head of the city planning department; and Micha Ben-Nun, head of the permit and supervision department. Some of those offices were among the premises searched Sunday morning.
The raid also targeted offices related to allegations of corruption by Olmert during his 2003-2005 tenure as minister of industry, trade and labor.
During that period, investigators believe Olmert may have given Messer favorable treatment, and also may have improperly given jobs to Likud central committee members.
That investigation was officially opened last month after Mazuz gave the go-ahead. Police have since been probing allegations of cronyism while Olmert led the Investment Center operated by the Industry and Trade Ministry, as well as political appointments by Olmert via the Small and Medium Business Authority and throughout the ministry.
In August 2006, a report by Lindenstrauss found evidence that Olmert and his director-general, Ra'anan Dinur, had changed the rules of the Authority for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses and appointed a woman with close political ties to Olmert as the authority's deputy director-general. She, in turn, appointed at least three project managers who were members of the Likud central committee.
A second report published last April probed a decision by the Investment Center to grant an "approved industry" status to Silicat Industries, Inc., which was represented by Messer. The status entitled the company to government benefits worth $48m. for construction of a silicate-producing factory in Dimona. 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.
Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.
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