Olmert facing third criminal indictment

Mazuz says charges conditional on hearing; former PM allegedly intervened in applications for government grants made by clients of close friend.

olmert before he jumped off a cliff 248. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert before he jumped off a cliff 248.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert is facing a third criminal indictment, this one on charges of fraud and breach of trust, conditional on the outcome of a hearing to be granted him by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, Mazuz announced Sunday. The charge of fraud and breach of trust is levied in cases of serious conflicts of interest. The attorney-general has already announced that he is considering filing criminal charges against Olmert in two other matters, the Rishon Tours affair and the Morris Talansky affair. The latest potential indictment has to do with Olmert's alleged personal and deep involvement with requests for government assistance by businessmen represented by his close friend, legal representative and former law partner, Uri Messer. In response to Mazuz's announcement, Olmert's public relations representative, Amir Dan, issued a statement saying, "Olmert is proud of the decisions he has made to advance industry and employment in the Negev and throughout the country, and he would make the same decisions if he had to do so again today. "This case will end up like the Cremieux and Bank Leumi affairs which started off with trumpets and fireworks and ended with a whimper." Dan was referring to two other police investigations in which Mazuz decided to close the files. But Mazuz wrote that "Olmert's conduct in this affair is characterized by the fact that over a long period of time, in the context of his various positions, particularly that of minister of Industry, Commerce and Labor, he involved himself in the [government's] dealings with the business clients of his close associate, attorney Uri Messer, [posing] a serious conflict of interests because of the different connections, relations and interests between them. "These connections, relations and interests, of which some substantial ones were unknown to their colleagues, created a deep indebtedness on Olmert's part towards Messer and should have obliged him to keep away from any dealings involving Messer and his clients in the context of his position." According to Mazuz, one of the secrets that Olmert and Messer shared was that Messer had allegedly funneled money donated by Talansky to Olmert to help cover NIS 1.7 million in campaign debts accrued by Olmert and the non-profit organization he established to run his campaign during the 1988 Jerusalem municipal elections. The statement issued by Mazuz included four examples of how Olmert intervened in applications by businessmen represented by Messer.
  • The government levy on cooking oil and oil cake: In 2003, the Industry, Commerce and Labor Ministry, which Olmert headed, decided to reduce the levy on foreign imports of cooking oil from 4.5 percent to three percent and of oil cake (an agricultural product) to 4.5%. It published an announcement to that effect in the newspapers on July 7. Messer called the general manager of Oil Industries Co. Ltd., Boaz Tzafrir, and offered his services in the matter. Tzafrir said he hired Messer because he was aware of the close ties between the attorney and Olmert. Olmert, Messer, Tzafrir and others met on August 3 to discuss the ministry's intention. A week later, the ministry announced that the levy reduction would be less than had been planned - to 4% and 5.5% respectively.
  • Silicat Industries Ltd.: According to Mazuz, Olmert intervened in the decisions of the Industry, Commerce and Labor Ministry's Investment Center regarding an application by Ephraim Feinblum, owner of Silicat Dimona Industries Ltd., to be recognized as an approved industry, making it eligible for various government benefits. Feinblum hired Messer to represent him. Mazuz charged that Olmert participated in meetings dealing with the application and "during these meetings he took substantial decisions regarding the enterprise and sometimes changed decisions made by the professional staff of the Investment Center." The matter was first investigated by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus, who brought it to Mazuz's attention.
  • Nevatim: According to the allegations, Messer represented a group of entrepreneurs who wanted to establish a company, in partnership with Israel Aircraft Industries, to examine airplanes near the Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev. Olmert was personally involved in promoting the initiative and even held a private meeting with Messer and the entrepreneurs. His senior aide, Ovad Yehezkel, also held a number of meetings in Messer's presence to advance the project.
  • Bezeq: The general manager of Bezeq hired Messer because he wanted to persuade Olmert, who was also communications minister, to allow him to transfer money to the Yes satellite company, of which Bezeq was part owner. The ministry had refused to allow the general manager to do this. According to Mazuz, the general manager said he had hired Messer "because he had a strong influence on Olmert." Immediately after Messer was hired, he, the general manager and Olmert held a private meeting about which the professional staff of the ministry was not informed. Mazuz wrote that the hearing to be granted Olmert regarding the Messer affair will be held "close to and serially" with the hearings regarding the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs.