'PM will probably have to step down'

Senior law enforcement official says allegations against Olmert are serious and problematic.

Olmert 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's situation is serious and problematic, and it is doubtful that he will be able to continue to serve as prime minister, a senior law enforcement official was quoted by Channel 1 as saying on Friday, after Olmert was questioned under caution by police over what are believed to be new allegations against him. The probe began at 10 a.m. and ended around 11:30 a.m. Olmert was questioned under caution, indicating that police believed their interrogation could result in an indictment. A court-placed gag-order still prevents the public from knowing the reasons for Friday's probe. However, it was believed that the questioning dealt with new suspicions against him. Olmert's office said the questions dealt with donations raised by an American citizen between 1999 and 2002, before Olmert became prime minister. The money was meant to fund elections for the mayorship of Jerusalem and primaries in Olmert's former political party, Likud. Media outlets speculated Friday morning that Olmert's expedited interrogation may be due to police fearing Olmert and his secretary of 30 years, Shula Zaken, coordinated their testimony. Zaken had been questioned in the same case on Tuesday. Prior to Thursday's surprise summons, Olmert had been scheduled to be interrogated only in several months. The interrogation, a special procedure about which Olmert was notified only 48 hours in advance, was approved by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. A statement by the prime minister's office said that "the prime minister answered all of the investigators' questions on the subject, and will continue to cooperate with all legal authorities to the extent he is required to do so." It added that Olmert "is convinced that with the discovery of the truth in the police investigation, the suspicions against him will dissipate." Several MKs sharply reacted to the news of the prospect of yet another investigation against Olmert. On Saturday, Labor MK and former cabinet minister Ophir Paz-Pines urged Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to promptly publicize the apparently new allegations against Olmert. Speaking to Israel Radio, Paz-Pines said that if the allegations are indeed so severe that they lead to an indictment, Olmert cannot possibly continue to serve as prime minister "even for one more day." "Mazuz needs to immediately tell the public what is going on. If there is proof, concrete allegations, and if the accusations are of bribery and taking money, there isn't a more severe offense for a pubic servant, especially for a prime minister," he added. Nevertheless, the former cabinet minister urged the political establishment not to make any hasty decisions until the allegations are made public. On Friday, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich told Israel Radio that the prime minister should suspend himself immediately. "Olmert is stuck up to his neck in investigations. We cannot have a prime minister who is serially investigated by police. He is plainly corrupt even without [the public] waiting for a conviction." "In the entire world there was never yet a precedent of a prime minister against whom so many investigations were held," Yacimovich said. Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On echoed Yacimovich, also saying that Olmert should suspend himself. She said it was apparent that Olmert did not know how to take personal responsibility and that Mazuz should "show him the way" and advise him to suspend himself. Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa'ar called on the Labor party to quit the Olmert-led government of "serial suspects". "Olmert is the most-investigated prime minister in the history of Israel, and he is surrounded by people whose are related to the greatest number of criminal affairs in the history of Israel," he said. MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) came to Olmert's defense. "From past experiences, we know that all the investigations started with a lot of noise and ended with nothing," he said. "The political system should not get hysterical and take brash political actions that will unsettle the government." Meanwhile, police opened an investigation against newspaper Yediot Aharonot for breaking the gag order and publishing details of the scandal.