Shendar: State may investigate Olmert

Under scrutiny are two cases of suspected favorable treatment and political appointments.

September 10, 2007 22:23
4 minute read.
Shendar: State may investigate Olmert

Eran Shendar 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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State Attorney Eran Shendar said Monday that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz should order a criminal investigation into two affairs involving Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's term of office as industry, trade and labor minister under prime minister Ariel Sharon. Shendar was speaking to reporters on an Israel Radio legal affairs program. "The two cases are on the attorney-general's table," said Shendar. "I assume he will make up his mind in the near future." Asked whether media reports saying he had recommended that police investigate the affairs were true, he said, "I don't deny them." The cases comprise the Investment Center affair, in which Olmert is suspected of giving favorable treatment to his close friend and former law partner, Uri Messer, and the case of the Small and Medium Business Authority, in which he is suspected of making political appointments. Both matters were originally probed by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. In the case of the Investment Center, Lindenstrauss submitted his findings to Mazuz on April 27, telling him there might be cause for a criminal probe regarding suspicions that Olmert influenced the center to provide a $10 million grant to Silicat Industries Inc., a company represented by Messer. Lindenstrauss's report on the matter was entitled "Conflict of Interests on the part of the Industry, Trade and Labor minister." Lindenstrauss found that Olmert "acted intensively to change the terms that the professional officials in the Investment Center had set, which meant that Messer's clients received substantial benefits." In August 2006, Lindenstrauss published a report saying Olmert had used the Small and Medium Business Authority "as a stage for making appointments based on political considerations and through improper procedures." In this case, too, he submitted his findings to Mazuz in accordance with the State Comptroller's Law, which instructs him to refer suspicions of criminal activity to the attorney-general. Since then, both cases have been under consideration by Mazuz, who has asked the police to conduct some preliminary investigations. On the basis of this additional information, Mazuz is due to determine whether to order the police to launch full-blown criminal investigations into Olmert's conduct. In a third affair involving Olmert, Shendar said he thought there was a "good chance" he would still be in office when the police investigation regarding the Bank Leumi affair was completed and landed on his desk. Olmert is suspected of having interfered in the tender for the sale of core ownership of Bank Leumi on behalf of a close business friend, Australian billionaire Frank Lowy. In this case, a full-blown police investigation has been underway since January 16, 2007. The state attorney is due to decide whether to indict Olmert on this matter, since Mazuz has disqualified himself from the case. He did so because his sister, Yamima Mazuz, is the legal adviser of the Finance Ministry and therefore directly involved. Shendar, who originally intended to retire this past summer, is staying on until the government chooses his replacement, based on the recommendation of a search committee headed by Mazuz. He said that he would not attempt to hold on to his position in order to be the one to decide on the Olmert investigation. On another topic, Shendar also said that if former president Moshe Katsav decided to reject the plea bargain with the state over the question of whether his crimes involved moral turpitude, the state prosecution would have to consider whether to drop the case or return to an indictment which includes two charges of rape. Katsav and his lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, Zion Amir and Avraham Lavie, told the High Court of Justice on Sunday that if they had known in the first place that Mazuz would ask the court to declare that the crimes Katsav admitted to in the plea bargain involved moral turpitude, they never would have agreed to the deal. However, they did not say in their response that they would back out of the agreement at this point. All they said in their response to the petitions was that they would do all they could to persuade the court to reject the state's request. Therefore, the issue seems to be speculative at this point. However, in his response to the interviewer's question about what the prosecution would do if Katsav changed his mind, Shendar said, "We will return to the phase we were at [when the prosecution was deliberating whether to close the file or charge Katsav with two rape charges involving the witness 'Aleph' from the Tourism Ministry]. We will have to sit down and consult among ourselves and finish the work we were approaching the end of when the plea bargain offer was made. "We will have to decide whether we are under or over the threshold [at which we have a reasonable chance of winning a conviction] and decide accordingly," he said. Shendar refused to say explicitly, but clearly hinted, that he was of the opinion that the prosecution could win the case.

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