Police arrived at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s residence Friday morning after the Attorney General issued an order requiring Olmert to be questioned under caution within 48 hours.
Detectives from the National Fraud Unit questioned Olmert for 90 minutes. The probe was supposed to be secret but was leaked by Channel 2 news Thursday evening, with the Yediot Acharonot newspaper providing details of the fresh allegations in its Friday edition. The allegations, like the three other investigations launched against misconduct by the prime minister, deal with the period prior to his election as Prime Minister.
Olmert's former chief of staff Shula Zaken was interrogated Tuesday for six hours on the same matter.
New Scandal, Stemmed From Others
The newest scandal involving Olmert was not the result of investigative reports or investigations by the State Comptroller, like the previous ones, but arose from information culled during the investigations of the three previous corruption cases.
Those cases dealt with conflict of interest in the Investments Bureau, political appointments in exchange for cash at the Small Business Authority and a $330,000 discount Olmert received on a home purchase on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem’s German Colony that is suspected to have been a bribe.
This is the first time a special order has been issued by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz requiring Olmert to submit to interrogation within 48 hours. The implications of such an order are that there is a concern that, if given time, the prime minister might obstruct the investigation, or that a key person who is leaving the country must be questioned following the interrogation of Olmert.
It is not the first time Olmert has been questioned “under caution,” however – a term used when police are investigating allegations that can lead to an indictment. Last October he was grilled about allegations he interfered in the selling off of the government shares of Bank Leumi in favor of his associate Frank Lowy, a wealthy Jewish businessman.
Police later announced that Olmert was not suspected of criminal behavior in that case.
One month later, twenty different sites were raided by the National Fraud Squad in relation to the three remaining cases against Olmert, with records and computer hard-drives confiscated in relation to the investigation.
PMO: Olmert Will be Vindicated
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office expressed confidence that Olmert would cooperate fully with investigators and that he would be vindicated. "The prime minister intends to fully cooperate with law enforcement officials, as he has done in the past," a PMO statement read. "He is convinced that as the truth will emerge in the framework of the police investigation, the suspicions against him will disappear."
The police apparently intended to keep Olmert’s latest interrogation a secret and were caught by surprise when Channel 2 reported the questioning Thursday evening.
Gag Order Slapped on Details After Already Published in Print
After Yediot Acharonot already published details of the allegations against Olmert, a court placed a gag order on all the details of the investigation. According to the unprecedented order, even details which this morning were being reported on state-run radio can no longer be published.
Some web sites immediately pulled stories on the scandal while others are limiting their coverage to quoting reports that remain published - such as the Yediot print edition. The Head of the Police's Investigations Department, Maj.--Gen. Yochanan Danino, said a criminal investigation would be launched against Yediot Acharonot for violating the gag order.
Labor MKs Call for Olmert to Step Down
MK Shelly Yechimovich (Labor) labeled PM Olmert a "serial suspect" Friday morning in an interview with state-run Voice of Israel government radio. She said that he must remove himself from office until police have completed investigations against him.
MK Yechimovich, serving her first term in the Knesset after having been a veteran radio journalist, said that Olmert is "up to his neck" in investigations. "He cannot head the government with all the investigations against him," she said. The MK described him as the most investigated leader in the world and added that the public does not trust him.
Fellow Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz expressed his consternation that the police would keep the newest allegations secret. Pines-Paz heads the Knesset Interior Committee, which is charged with oversight of the police department.
"It's unreasonable and puzzling in my view that the police hid from the public the prime minister's investigation," Paz told Yediot Achronot. "It would be appropriate for the investigation of a prime minister not to be published through a leak…but rather, via a police spokesperson's announcement. In addition, the fact that the police have not revealed the affair which the prime minister is expected to be questioned over also raises quite a few question marks. If the probe was hidden in order to prevent its disruption, it's acceptable, but if the police refuse to disclose details because they fear the prime minister, we are dealing with a dangerous situation that must not happen within Israeli democracy.”
Pines-Paz noted that senior police officials have publicly pledged in the past to speedily disclose any investigations dealing with the prime minister. Police have still declined to comment on the case.
MK Gideon Saar: Labor Must Leave Government
MK Gideon Saar, chairman of the Likud's Knesset faction, called upon the Labor party to leave the government immediately, following the new suspicions against Olmert.
"Olmert is the most investigated Prime Minister in Israeli history, and he heads a coalition with the largest number of members implicated in criminal cases in Israeli history," Saar said Friday. "The body which is responsible for this government's maintenance and survival is the Labor Party, and it must leave it immediately if it pretends to represent values of legal and moral governance."
Eldad: Mazuz Can Whitewash No More
MK Aryeh Eldad (NU/NRP) voiced wonder Friday at the sudden nature of Olmert's investigation by police. "Every reasonable citizen knows that the Prime Minister is corrupt, and does not understand why the Attorney General, who has been dragging his feet for years, suddenly demands an urgent investigation,” he said. "It seems that Olmert's crimes have exceeded even [AG Menachem] Mazuz's ability to whitewash."
Kadima MK Schneller to Politicians: Shut Up on Olmert
MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) said Friday that he has complete confidence in the investigative system and the courts and that he "recommends to all politicians" that they "keep their mouths shut" regarding the investigation of PM Olmert.
"Any statement of a position before the finalization of the investigation and legal process is tantamount to political intervention in the considerations of the investigative and legal system, and will encourage the system's corruption," Schneller said.
Schneller is considered a close confidante of Olmert's.