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Cloud of Mystery Surrounds Accusations Against PM

Olmert's reaction to the suspicions against him, and the suspicions themselves, are still secret. Leaks and counter-leaks from Justice Ministry.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 5/3/2008, 10:57 PM

Forty-eight hours after the first leaks regarding serious suspicions against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the public in Israel is still not allowed to know what the Prime Minister is suspected of and what his reaction to the accusations is. The Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, made a statement Saturday in which he denied earlier quotes damaging to the Prime Minister which appeared in the press and had been attributed to senior sources in the Justice Ministry.

The cloud of secrecy descended over the case Friday, as it became known that the police had requested and received a gag order on all details of the suspicions against Olmert. The only detail that the media was allowed to carry was that Olmert's longtime bureau chief and confidante, Shula Zaken, had been interrogated regarding the matter Tuesday.  

Mazuz Issues Denial
On Friday, different news outlets carried a leak from an unnamed senior Justice Department source who was quoted as saying that "if the suspicions against Olmert turn out to be true or if a solid evidentiary base is found, it is unlikely that the Prime Minister will be able to continue his term in office." Other sources said that "the matter being investigated is serious, and the development is a dramatic one."
"The subject never came up, was never discussed and was not mentioned in any discussion in the Justice Ministry."

Mazuz announced Saturday that "following news reports that seemed to imply that the Justice Ministry had taken a position regarding the continuation of the Prime Minister's term in office following the new investigation against him, [we] ask to clarify that the subject never came up, was never discussed and was not mentioned in any discussion in the Justice Ministry, neither directly nor indirectly, and no position was taken on this subject at such an early stage."

Ynet also reported Saturday that Olmert would be interrogated a second time soon. He was questioned for 90 minutes Friday at his official Jerusalem residence.

Barak, Peretz Supportive of Olmert
Politicians identified with the left and opposition demanded Olmert's resignation Friday: MK Shelly Yechimovich of the Labor party and MK Zehava Galon of Meretz said the suspicions against Olmert were enough to warrant his resignation, even though they had not yet been proven. MK Gidon Saar of the Likud called upon Labor leader Ehud Barak, Olmert's senior coalition partner, to topple the government.

However, Barak's only announcement Saturday was that he hoped the Prime Minister would come out of this investigation "unblemished."

Former Labor head MK Amir Peretz said that politicians should not interfere in the investigation. "We must not fan the flames and cause the investigators to want to bring answers quickly… The politicians must keep quiet regarding this investigation," he said, adding: "We must wait to see if there is any substance behind the allegations."