Israel orders criminal probe into Olmert 2007-09-24 23:43:32   Print

    JERUSALEM, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- The Attorney General's office of Israel has ordered a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the justice ministry said on Monday.

    Olmert is suspected of purchasing a Jerusalem flat from a friend at a price of 320,000 U.S. dollars, far lower than the property's market value, in return for helping a construction firm to gain illegal building permits, local media reported.

    In response to Mazuz's decision, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement on Monday that "We are certain and convinced that the Olmert family's purchase of the Cremieux Street home was clean and pure," according to a Ha'aretz report.

    "We find the decision to continue the investigation unfortunate, because it is unnecessary" and they found the purchase did not deviate from the market conditions and acceptable value estimates, the statement said.

    It said Olmert will "fully cooperate" with the investigation in order to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.

    Once the initial phase of the investigation is completed, the findings will be presented to the attorney general and the state prosecutor, who will decide whether to continue the probe. As is customary for investigations of senior officials, Olmert can only be questioned under Mazuz's prior consent.

    Some Knesset (parliament) members from opposition parties welcomed Mazuz's decision.

    Knesset member (MK) Yossi Beilin, chairman of Meretz-Yahad, said the decision "seriously clouds Olmert's ability to lead Israel through this critical time," adding that Olmert would have to resign should the investigation result in an indictment.

    MK Arieh Eldad, from National Union-National Religious Party, called on the police to speed up its investigation "and not to let the prime minister evade trial with his well-known rejection maneuvers."

    "Mazuz's decision is a slap in the face of all those who tried to delegitimize the state comptroller and the judicial system on the prime minister's behalf," said Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar.

    The case is one of several involving suspicions against the prime minister, and was widely considered the weakest of the three affairs under study.

    Another of the affairs involves suspicions that Olmert gave special consideration to a company represented by his friend and former law partner Uri Messer in grant allocations by the Industry, Trade, and Labor Ministry's Investment Center. A third involves suspicions that he made political appointments at the Small Business Authority.

    Both of these cases, which involve Olmert's term as industry, trade, and labor minister, began with an investigation and subsequent scathing report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.

    Mazuz is expected to decide after the Sukkot holiday, or Feast of Tabernacles, on whether to order an additional police investigation into Olmert regarding these.

Editor: Yan Liang
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