Yad Vashem voices surprised over 'Olmertours' fraud allegations

Variety of state, public organizations who police suspect were double-billed by PM express astonishment.

Olmert times two 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert times two 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Yad Vashem and a variety of other state and public organizations who police suspect were fraudulently double-billed for the same overseas trips by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his tenure as industry, trade and labor minister and Jerusalem mayor expressed astonishment Sunday over the corruption allegations. "We are surprised by the current investigation," said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. "Throughout his public service, Prime Minister Olmert has actively assisted the Yad Vashem Societies around the world in their fund-raising activities," he said. "It must be noted that approximately half of Yad Vashem's operating budget is from private donations, and Prime Minister Olmert always willingly responded to help raise those donations." Yad Vashem spokeswoman Iris Rosenberg added that when Olmert was invited to speak by Yad Vashem's Societies, they reimbursed him for his flight and hotel expenses, as is customary. Police said Friday that they were examining whether Olmert, as mayor of Jerusalem and then industry, trade and labor minister, received duplicate funding for the same trips abroad from different public bodies and used the excess money to pay for private family trips for his wife Aliza and his children. Police said that Olmert's Rishon Lezion travel agency, Rishon Tours, colluded in the scheme by sending copies of the same bill to numerous public bodies. Other organizations who were allegedly used in the travel scam voiced similar reaction to the burgeoning corruption investigation against the premier. "The Friends of the IDF, an American non-profit organization, periodically invites Israeli public representatives to help raise donations in the US for the IDF," the Soldier Welfare Association said Sunday. "It is customary that all costs are paid for by the host, according to an invoice, and this has always been the case," the group said. The head of the Akim organization, which deals with mentally disabled children, said that Olmert had been invited by the group to a gala event in the Us on behalf of such children during his tenure as industry, trade and labor minister. "Akim has 20 friendship organizations around the world, and the US branch, which invited Olmert to an event on behalf of children with mental disabilities, paid for his flights and hotel stay," the organization's director-general Reuven Samuel said in a statement. The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which was also taken in by the alleged travel ruse, had no immediate comment Sunday. All the organizations said that they were caught by surprise by the allegations against the premier, and stressed that they had no connection to the independent police investigation.