Olmert Indictment Unlikely; Appeal Threatened
The police team investigating Israel's sale of Bank Leumi has found evidence of suspicious and illegal involvement by Prime Minister Olmert - but not enough to justify recommending an indictment.
The official Israel Police investigative team has found some evidence that Ehud Olmert, when serving as Acting Finance Minister in November 2005, acted illegally in promoting his friends' interests during the privatization of Bank Leumi. The team presented its findings on Thursday afternoon, but recommended to the State Prosecution that Olmert not be indicted.
It is now up to Moshe Lador, who will assume the position of State Prosecutor on Sunday, to decide whether or not to indict the Prime Minister. Lador is expected to go along with the police recommendations - and if he does, the Movement for Quality in Government and Accountant-General Yaron Zelikha, who first made the accusations against Olmert, promise to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
The police planned to announce the findings this past Sunday, just as Olmert was departing for the Annapolis summit in the United States. Public criticism of the timing, however, led the police to push off the announcement until this evening, just hours after Olmert is scheduled to return from the U.S.
A press conference scheduled by the police investigative team for this evening was also called off, as the police decided to maintain a "low profile" in the case.
Accountant-General Warned Olmert
The police found evidence linking Olmert with some of the criminal allegations against him. The allegations against Olmert began in November 2005, during a well-attended Finance Ministry meeting on the topic of the sale of Bank Leumi. Outgoing Accountant-General Zelikha said on that occasion:
"Mr. Finance Minister, I want to say for the protocol that in opposition to my own professional opinion and that of my staff, you have decided to increase the benefit [for the potential buyer] to 10%. Also in opposition to my professional opinion, you wish to increase [another sum], and you insist on bringing us to a situation of selling [the bank] under its evaluated worth - something that is unprecedented in the history of the State of Israel...
"You are the Finance Minister and it's your right to decide whatever you want, but instead of accepting our solution that will increase the number of participants in the bidding, you are choosing a solution that is good for one very specific group, and that is liable to end up in a sale for less than its value. In addition, you have ignored and did not want to discuss the problems of the other strategic groups [of potential buyers], and insist only on dealing with the issues of one group. It is my obligation to tell you the grave ramifications of your decision."
After hearing this, Olmert called a recess, and stepped outside for a private consultation with his top aide, Yossi Bechar. When he returned, he retracted most of his decisions, and the group he was allegedly trying to help - that of his friend Frank Lowy - then pulled out of the bidding.
A few days later, Zelikha turned to the State Comptroller with his suspicions that Olmert had been acting illegally, and the issues have been under investigation ever since.
Other Investigations Still Underway
Though it does not appear that Olmert will be charged in the Bank Leumi sale, the police are still investigating Olmert's activities in several other affairs. Among these are:
• Olmert's purchase of a luxury apartment on Cremieux St. in Jerusalem for a price hundreds of dollars less than the apparent going price - allegedly in return for using his influence in the Jerusalem Municipality, which he once headed, to gain zoning benefits for the contractor.
• Olmert is also being investigated for having dealt with a case, as Minister of Industry and Trade, in which his friend, former business partner and current lawyer was involved.
• Olmert is further being investigated for a series of allegedly political appointments he made while heading the Small Business Administration.
• Another set of allegations was published this month by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss regarding Olmert's intervention on behalf of an entrepreneur after the latter's request for 7.67 million shekels in government aid was turned down.
• Finally, investigative reporter Yoav Yitzchak has written that Likud activist Shlomi Oz said he transferred $100,000 in illegal campaign funding for Olmert during the 1999 Likud party primaries.