State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Sunday handed over to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz the material he gathered in his investigation of the purchase of a home in Jerusalem by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Lindenstrauss said he lacked the authority to complete the investigation and recommended that the police carry on. He added that during a meeting on August 29, Mazuz had told him "from the facts gathered so far, there is potential for a criminal investigation."
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In his current letter to Mazuz, Lindenstrauss wrote that "the facts uncovered by the state comptroller's office [since the meeting] have not removed the various suspicions."
Lindenstrauss informed Mazuz that according to an independent assessment of the value of the apartment that Olmert and his wife, Aliza, bought on Cremieux Street, the couple paid $330,000 less than its market value.
He also found evidence that senior officials in the Jerusalem Municipality, including City Engineer Uri Sheetrit, head of the town planning department Osnat Post and the head of the permit and supervision department Micha Ben-Nun, had given special treatment to the contractor's applications for changes in the planning guidelines for the Templar building, which was classified as a preserved building. The plan also involved dismantling and reconstructing the building, something that, the state comptroller wrote, had never been done before.
According to Lindenstrauss, Olmert paid $1.2 million three years in advance for the apartment, even though the physical unit that he paid for did not yet exist and was dependent on the changes that the municipality eventually approved.
Lindenstrauss told Mazuz he could not complete the investigation for several reasons. For one thing, many of those involved in the affair were private individuals. The state comptroller may only question public officials. For another, some of the witnesses contradicted other witnesses or even themselves, and the state comptroller did not have the authority to confront witnesses or conduct an intensive investigation of their testimony.
The most glaring problem of all, however, was the fact that Olmert did not respond to the draft of the report that Lindenstrauss sent him on January 31, 2007. According to standard procedure in state comptroller investigations, Olmert was supposed to read the draft report and respond to the allegations against him. The state comptroller was then supposed to take these explanations into consideration when writing up the final draft. Lindenstrauss gave Olmert one month to submit his reactions to the draft report. Three months later, Olmert has still not sent it.
"A key public figure, a government minister, who receives a 'discount' of such a huge sum for the purchase of an apartment, is obligated to provide a detailed response without delay to the draft he received," wrote Lindenstrauss. "The norms that obligate a key public figure are transparency, honesty and proper administration. Thus, Olmert should have given a detailed, substantive and clear explanation in writing regarding such a serious and significant matter."
Following Lindenstrauss's decision, Mazuz now has to decide whether to hand over three different affairs involving Olmert to the police, aside from the Bank Leumi affair, which the police are already investigating.
The other two involve alleged political appointments made by Olmert when he served as Minister of Commerce and Industry to the Small Business Authority, and favoritism to clients represented by his close personal friend, attorney Uri Messer, who applied for loans to the Investment Center.