State Prosecutor Lador: Only evidence beyond reasonable doubt can lead to conviction.
By DAN IZENBERG
The state prosecution has closed the file against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Bank Leumi affair, State Attorney Moshe Lador announced on Thursday.
This is the first of the six criminal investigations against Olmert to be closed so far. Three others are still being investigated by police, one is under consideration by the state prosecution, and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has decided to indict the prime minister pending the outcome of a hearing on the sixth.
In the Bank Leumi affair, Olmert was suspected of having intervened in the sale of part of the government's shares in the bank on behalf of a potential buyer, a business friend of his. The friend in question was represented in Israel by a law office previously owned by the father of Olmert's daughter-in-law, and a consultant for the office who was a personal friend of the family.
The personalities involved in the allegations included Australian businessman Frank Lowy; the former head of Lowy's Israeli law firm, Yosef Gross; and attorney Tamar Ben-David.
Lador made the decision in the Bank Leumi affair after Mazuz disqualified himself because his sister, Yamima, had been the Finance Ministry legal adviser at the time of the events under investigation.
The state attorney concluded that Olmert had been involved in a conflict of interests and that he had been guilty of some improper conduct, but that his actions did not add up to criminal behavior. The evidence did not indicate beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of fraud and breach of faith, Lador concluded.
The allegations against Olmert were initiated by Yaron Zelekha, the former accountant-general of the Finance Ministry. Zelekha went to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and presented a series of facts and assumptions that led him to believe Olmert had tried to tip the tender in Lowy's favor.
The suspicions were based on the fact that Olmert had a personal relationship with Lowy, that he had not told Zelekha and other officials that he knew the businessman, that Lowy had backed out of a deal to buy some of the shares (Zelekha assumed that it was Olmert who had convinced him to do so, promising him a better deal), and that Olmert had then made changes in the terms of the tender.
According to Zelekha, Lowy dropped out of the bidding because Olmert couldn't keep an alleged promise to his friend that he would be the only contender after the changes in the tender were made.
According to Lador, Olmert's conflict of interest in the Bank Leumi tender involved his relations with Lowy, Gross and Ben-David. However, he determined that in each case, the degree of conflict was low. The evidence indicated that Olmert and Lowy were not close friends, that there were no financial relations between them and that Lowy had not contributed to Olmert's political campaigns. Olmert and Gross were not first-degree relatives, and their family relationship was not of the type that created conflicts of interest according to Israeli law. Olmert and Ben-David both testified that they were not close friends. Furthermore, Ben-David was paid a fixed annual stipend and would have had nothing to gain materially if Lowy had won the tender.
Lador added that Olmert had relationships similar to the one with Lowy with other potential investors and some of the lawyers representing them, including attorney Ram Caspi, who represented businessman Nohi Dankner.
Nevertheless, Olmert committed two deviations from proper conduct that had to be mentioned, even though they did not reach the level of criminal behavior. First, he held two private conversations with Ben-David during the tender procedure and did not report them to anyone else. Second, as a result of his talks with Ben-David, in which she presented Lowy's demands, Olmert extended the deadline for the tender by two weeks and improved the terms for bidders who wanted the option to purchase the rest of the state's shares at a later date and thereby obtain a controlling interest in the bank.
At the end of the 43-page opinion, Lador wrote, "Our investigation of the material in the case before us shows that there is no evidential infrastructure against Olmert which could serve as the basis for a criminal indictment for fraud and breach of faith that would stand reasonable chance of winning a conviction. Therefore, we have decided to close the file on the grounds of insufficient evidence."
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