Top Israeli ministers prepare for day after Olmert

Sunday, May 11, 2008 |  by Staff Writer

The four top government ministers from Israel's ruling Kadima Party are reportedly working hurriedly to solidify their own positions in anticipation that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be forced to resign amidst a fresh corruption scandal investigators say is particularly damning.

None of the four ministers have made public statements against Olmert, but their preparations for an early party primary, as reported by Israel's Ynet news portal, indicate they know the prime minister's downfall is imminent.

The four ministers, one of whom will become prime minister if Olmert is forced to step down and current coalition partners agree to remain in the government, are Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit.

In a televised address last week, Olmert promised to resign if an indictment is filed against him, but on Sunday his associates insisted the affair is far from serious enough to result in such drastic legal measures.

Olmert's office said the investigation is focused on possible campaign finance irregularities - which also plagued former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak - and that allegations of a bribery scandal are misinformed.

However, Olmert's lawyers on Sunday urgently petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to deny police permission to interrogate US Jewish business tycoon Morris Talansky, the man suspected of paying large sums of money to Olmert over a 15-year period. The prime minister's lawyers earlier insisted that if Talansky is to be questioned, it must be behind closed doors, a condition the court rejected on the grounds that the public has a right to know what the police learn.

Talansky has reportedly been very cooperative, admitting to authorities that he had in fact transferred funds to Olmert for years, but noting that he was not responsible for what Olmert did with that money.

Olmert has tried to pass off any financial improprieties to his former bureau chief Shula Zaken and former lawyer and long-time family friend Uri Messer, both of whom handled any money coming in from Talansky. The prime minister claims that Zaken and Messer were given responsibility to make sure what he calls donations were made and handled legally.

Olmert's betrayal of his former employees has led to reports that both Zaken and Messer are prepared to turn state's witness against the prime minister.

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