Olmert Bank Leumi probe goes to Australia

PM suspected of intervening in the government tender for sale of the controlling interest in the bank on behalf of an Australian businessman.

A day after a fiery exchange between Ehud Olmert and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on the Investment Center affair, the prime minister was again the subject of unwanted attention on Thursday, this time due to the Bank Leumi scandal. Police said a team of investigators would go to Australia on Wednesday to question billionaire Frank Lowy in connection with the Bank Leumi affair. Olmert is suspected of intervening in the government tender for sale of the controlling interest in Bank Leumi on behalf of Lowy and American Slim-Fast magnate S. Daniel Abraham. The criminal investigation into the bank tender was opened in January, a year after Lindenstrauss began to probe claims of favoritism on Olmert's part. Accountant-General Yaron Zelekha was the key witness, claiming that Olmert, then acting finance minister, interfered to help his friends. Police close to the investigation said investigators from the National Fraud Squad would be sent to question Lowy, who is also considered a key witness. They added that other people would also be questioned while the team was down under. The Israel Police can only question a suspect in Australia via a formal request issued by Israel's Justice Ministry and okayed by Australia's. The witnesses cannot be forced to come to Israel to testify. The only time someone overseas can be compelled by police to return to Israel is if that person has been indicted, in which case an extradition order can be filed, if the countries have an extradition agreement. Lowy dropped out of the running for the bank shares two days before the tender was closed. Abraham did not submit a bid but he subsequently joined the group that had won the tender and wanted to exercise its option to purchase another 10 percent of the bank. Abraham is also likely to be questioned in the near future. In an interview with Channel 10 Thursday, State Attorney Eran Shendar said he hoped the case would be in the hands of prosecutors by the time he retires this summer.