Olmert Facing New Accusations of Corruption
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is facing yet another corruption accusation, this time by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.
In a report released Monday, Lindenstrauss charged that Olmert used his influence when he was Minister of Labor, Industry and Trade to obtain NIS 7.67 million of government aid for an associate's businesses between 2000 and 2005. Rahamim Ben-Shushan, an activist in the Likud party's Central Committee, was given financial assistance from the ministry for four factories operated by his Marina Group.
Ben-Shushan requested assistance from the ministry for one of his factories, while a competing factory was already receiving similar aid. After Ben-Shushan's request was passed off to the Ministry of Agriculture, he personally complained to Olmert about what he saw as discrimination.
Olmert used his influence when he was Minister of Labor, Industry and Trade to obtain NIS 7.67 million.
An Olmert aide, Oved Yechezkel, then turned to the Director-General of the Ministry of Labor, Industry and Trade, Raanan Dinur, with a request that Comptroller Lindenstrauss believes implied an illegal instruction. Despite the approved protocol for grant requests, which do not permit the involvement of the minister in the decision process, Yehezkel wrote to Dinur, "Ehud requests your personal attention and that you update him."
In a similar instance, in 2005, Yehezkel again intervened on behalf of Ben-Shushan with the new Director-General of the ministry, Hezi Tzaig. Writing as an advisor to Olmert, Yehezkel asked Tzaig to "stay in touch with Ben-Shushan and explore ways to assist [his] factory."
In an earlier case involving Ben-Shushan, Comptroller Lindenstrauss revealed, Olmert obtained for Ben-Shushan a commitment that a certain factory would be given preferred status three weeks before the issue was officially decided upon by the Ministry of Labor, Industry and Trade's Investment Center. The accusation leveled by Lindenstrauss is that Olmert met with the head of the Investment Center and the Mayor of Maalot Tarshicha, where the factory was located, in order to get them to agree to approve Ben-Shushan's factory for preferred status.
According to Lindenstrauss, "One gets the impression that the minister sought to benefit the entrepreneur [Ben-Shushan]."
Yechezkel currently serves as Olmert's senior advisor, while Dinur is now the Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office.
The latest accusation by the comptroller comes on top of three concurrent corruption investigations of the Prime Minister. In October, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz instructed the police to open a criminal investigation of Olmert in connection with other suspected wrongdoings committed when he was Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor. The suspicions revolve around a company that was
The latest accusation by State Comptroller Lindenstrauss comes on top of three concurrent corruption investigations of the Prime Minister.
represented by Olmert's longtime associate and attorney Uri Messer, as well as political appointments in the Small Businesses Authority and other illegal assistance to his political proteges.
Olmert is also under investigation for the purchase of a home on Jerusalem's Cremieux Street at a price substantially below market value, allegedly in return for exerting his influence in Jerusalem's municipality to aid the contractors. An additional investigation relates to charges that Olmert favored his business associates in the sale of Bank Leumi's controlling shares owned by the government, while he was serving as Acting Finance Minister.
Earlier this month an extensive poll on government corruption found that Prime Minister Olmert is considered the most corrupt politician in Israel in 2007. Fifty-six percent of the public defined his behavior as "corrupt to very corrupt." Olmert, who heads the Kadima party, also received this dubious distinction in 2006. The poll was conducted by the prestigious Maagar Mochot survey institute for the Fifth Annual Sderot Conference on Social and Economic Policy.