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Investigative reporter Yoav Yitzhak on Wednesday charged that businessman and philanthropist Avi Naor paid Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's wife, Aliza, NIS 240,000 in 2004, even though she did little, if anything, in return for the money.
"Our investigation shows that even if Olmert was registered as an employee in [Naor's] company, in actual fact she did not provide any substantial services proportionate to the money she received, or, at any rate, she did not provide services that would justify such a large sum of money."
An official in the Prime Minister's Office told The Jerusalem Post that the report was "a disgusting lie. Mrs. Olmert worked full time on the project and received a salary in accordance with her work. [Yitzhak's] report sets a new record for underhanded lies."
According to Yitzhak, Olmert received the money in 11 monthly installments of NIS 22,000 while her husband served as deputy prime minister, minister of industry and commerce, minister of employment and head of the Israel Lands Authority. He was also in charge of the Ministry of Communications.
Naor, one of the founders and a former chairman of Amdocs, has devoted most of his time and energy since 1997 to Or Yarok, the non-profit organization that he founded to fight traffic accidents after his son was killed in one.
Yitzhak pointed out that Naor, who contributed millions of dollars to his projects, was also dependent on parallel sums of money from the government.
In 2004, Naor initiated a project to care for 350,000 at-risk children suffering from poverty, neglect and abuse. In return for a promise of NIS 1 billion over five years from prime minister Ariel Sharon, Naor and two other philanthropists, The Sacta-Rashi Fund and Haim Saban, promised to kick in $2.5 million and to raise the rest of the money in North America.
Both Sharon and Ehud Olmert were involved in the negotiations over the establishment of the project. Olmert allegedly worked to create and implement the project and raise money for it. However, it ultimately collapsed when the government and some of the contributors failed to follow through on their promises to give money.
In the meantime, wrote Yitzhak, Naor hired Aliza Olmert ostensibly to work on the project. In fact, the money she received was a payoff, he charged.
Yitzhak also quoted Chemi Morag, described in the article as Olmert's direct boss. He told Yitzhak that Olmert's job was to study and then prepare a program for treating young children at risk. He said she studied all of the existing programs in Israel and abroad and prepared her own program. Yitzhak said he asked for samples of her written work but had not received any material so far.
In a related development, the watchdog group Ometz petitioned the High Court on Wednesday against Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's decision to close a file on allegations that Prime Minister Olmert had given preferential treatment to a friend who had given him an expensive pen as a gift.
This affair was also reported for the first time by Yitzhak on April 16, 2004. According to the allegations, Olmert, while serving as the head of the Israel Lands Authority, received an expensive pen from a businessman friend, Alexander Tessler. Soon afterwards, he allegedly scheduled a meeting with Tessler and ILA officials to discuss a land request by Tessler. Olmert, according to Yitzhak, attended the meeting and backed Tessler.
Ometz filed a complaint and asked Mazuz to order the police to investigate the matter. On September 19, Mazuz said he was closing the file even though Olmert's conduct had been improper.
In the High Court petition, Ometz charged that Mazuz's decision was "highly unreasonable" and should therefore be overturned. Ometz lawyer Boaz Arad said Mazuz had estimated the value of the pen at "several hundred shekels," whereas its real value was thousands of shekels. Furthermore, even if the alleged bribe was relatively small in value, the fact that a cabinet minister had accepted it made the matter serious. If the Supreme Court had found Shimon Sheves, the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office under Yitzhak Rabin, guilty of fraud and breach of faith, surely Olmert, an elected official, should also be indicted for committing a similar act.