Criminal probe pending of PM's Cremieux St. house deal - report

Despite reports late Sunday night that a criminal investigation would be opened against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regarding his purchase of a home on the capital's Cremieux Street in 2004, Justice Ministry officials insisted that the case was simply in a "very advanced stage, pending a decision." Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen refused to confirm or deny rumors that State Attorney Eran Shendar had decided to recommend to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz that Olmert face a criminal investigation for the real estate purchase. In the Justice Ministry, however, the belief was that a decision on a criminal probe would be taken in the next two to three weeks. The circumstances surrounding the purchase of Olmert's home in the German Colony neighborhood raised suspicions last year when reports were released that Olmert, who formerly served as both mayor of Jerusalem and finance minister, had received the property at substantially below market price in exchange for granting his contractor special favors at the municipality. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss found evidence that senior officials in the Jerusalem Municipality, including City Engineer Uri Sheetrit, the head of the town planning department Osnat Post and the head of the permit and supervision department Micha Ben-Nun had given special treatment to the contractor's applications for changes in the planning guidelines for the Templar building at 8 Cremieux Street, which was classified as a "preserved building." The plan also involved dismantling and reconstructing the building, something that, the state comptroller wrote, had never been allowed before. According to Lindenstrauss, Olmert paid $1.2 million for the home, three years in advance, even though the unit he paid for did not yet exist and was dependent on the changes that the municipality eventually approved. Lindenstrauss sent Olmert a draft of the report on January 31. According to standard procedure in State Comptroller's Office investigations, Olmert was supposed to respond to the allegations against him. The state comptroller was then supposed to take these explanations into consideration when writing up his final report. As of April, Olmert had failed to do so. Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.