Police: Indict Olmert for appointments

Investigators: ex-PM improperly appointed friends, granted benefits; Mazuz closes Cremieux case.

Cremieux olmert 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Cremieux olmert 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On the same day that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz decided to close the file against former prime minister Ehud Olmert regarding allegations that he accepted a bribe in the purchase of a Jerusalem home, the police recommended to state prosecutors on Monday that Olmert be indicted for making improper appointments while he was industry, trade and labor minister. Olmert appointed acquaintances from the Likud party to a range of positions and granted them benefits in an improper manner, the police said, following the completion of an investigation. The investigation found that Olmert, the head of his bureau, and his assistants had not acted in the public interest when appointing acquaintances during the period when Olmert was industry, trade and labor minister, communications minister, finance minister, head of the Israel Lands Authority and head of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. The individuals who benefited hail from a host of companies, including Bezeq, the Israel Postal Company, the Small Business Authority and the Labor Court, among others - all of which were under Olmert's authority during the period in question, police said. "During the months of investigation, some 400 people involved were interrogated and testified regarding 260 appointments or benefits," police added. "The investigation team is convinced that there is evidence that Mr. Olmert, Oved Yehezkel - his former senior assistant - and Ra'anan Dinur - former director-general of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry - acted out of a severe conflicts of interest when granting promotions and benefits for members of the Likud central committee or their acquaintances," police said. The investigation began in October 2007 at the order of Mazuz and was conducted by the National Fraud Unit and the Lahav 433 Unit. Police said they had found evidence of improper benefits, appointments, and actions to promote their Likud colleagues and activists, as well as proof that Olmert had answered requests to guarantee the jobs of acquaintances or prevent them from being fired. Cmdr. Yoav Seglovitch, head of intelligence for the Israel Police, adopted the National Fraud Unit's conclusions. The case has now been sent to state prosecutors to decide whether Olmert, Yehezkel and Dinur should be indicted. A media adviser to Olmert issued a scathing response Monday evening to the police's announcement. Amir Dan accused state prosecutors and the police of carefully timing the publication in order to "blur" and "whitewash" the fact that Mazuz had announced his decision Monday to close another case against Olmert - one involving alleged irregularities in his purchase of a home on Jerusalem's Cremieux Street. "The public is tired of this conduct by the prosecution and the police, who are busy with creating spins in the media, all the while engaged in petty and inappropriate score-settling," Dan said. "It is regrettable that such a circus is run by law-enforcement authorities." Meanwhile, Mazuz has decided to close the file and not press charges for lack of evidence against Olmert regarding allegations that he accepted a bribe in the purchase of the home in the capital's German Colony neighborhood, the Justice Ministry announced on Monday. Altogether, Olmert has been investigated by police in six different affairs. This is the second one to be closed outright by the attorney-general. In three other investigations, Mazuz has announced that he is considering pressing charges conditional on the outcome of hearings to be granted Olmert's lawyers. On Monday, police announced that they recommended prosecuting Olmert in the sixth case. Regarding the Cremieux affair, Mazuz wrote that "even though the investigation did not remove reasons to wonder and questions about the transaction and the conduct of those involved in the affair, the investigation did not yield sufficient evidence to provide a basis for the suspicion that Olmert received from the Alumot [construction] company a substantial monetary deduction in the purchase of the house in return for which he was to use his influence with Jerusalem Municipality officials so they would provide exceptional building permits and speed up procedures for the project." Dan said in response to Mazuz's decision that "three years of endless investigations, of tendentious leaks and a wealth of provocative and hurtful pronouncements against Olmert have ended in a whimper. This is a decision that should have been made long ago and not after three years and after a prime minister in office has been removed. This joins the Bank Leumi affair, which has already been closed, and we have no doubt that in the end, this will be the fate of the other affairs as well." Olmert and his wife purchased the 260-square-meter, two-story Templar building in 2004 for $1.2 million from Alumot, a development company that owned the land. The project involved moving Olmert's home, which was a preserved building, by dismantling and rebuilding it, and building additional floor space on the plot of land. In 2006, investigative reporter Yoav Yitzhak filed a complaint with State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, charging that Olmert had purchased the house far below its market price and had promised in return to procure the necessary permits from municipal officials to carry out the complicated project. Levana Eshed, an appraiser hired by Lindenstrauss during his investigation, evaluated Olmert's new house at $1.68 million. Considering that he had paid for it up front in cash, Eshed said the house should have been sold for $1.53 million - $330,000 more than Olmert paid for it. Olmert argued that the reason he had paid less was that he had taken a risk and bought the property even though the developer had not yet acquired full rights to it. Furthermore, his own appraiser had told him that paying the entire sum in cash in advance should earn him a 10-percent reduction in the price of the house. Both Olmert and Alumot provided estimates from certified appraisers backing their claims. According to Mazuz, "in the face of these explanations, which were supported by certified appraisers, we could not reject their argument to the degree of certainty necessary in a criminal trial." Mazuz added that the police investigation had not come up with evidence to prove that Olmert had intervened with municipal officials to advance the building project. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.