Israel's Olmert charged with defrauding charities

Monday, July 14, 2008 |  Israel Today Staff

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has come under renewed intense pressure step down this week amid allegations that he defrauded a number of national charities during his time as mayor of Jerusalem and minister of industry and trade.

According to a police statement released at the weekend, evidence suggests that over the course of many years Olmert asked several different charities to fund each of his trips abroad on state business. The money from only one charity was needed to pay for each trip, while the money from the others was deposited into a special bank account that the Olmert family used to finance personal vacations.

Aiding Olmert in the scam was Israeli tourism operator Rishon Tours. Police raided the offices of Rishon Tours last week and confiscated documents and computer hard drives that investigators indicated contain damning evidence backing up the severe charges.

Dubbed "Olmertours," the latest scandal will be lumped together with another ongoing investigation into allegations that Olmert received bribes from an American Jewish businessman over the course of about 15 years. Police said evidence supporting that case is mounting fast, and that an indictment is likely to be filed against Olmert in late August.

But for most Israelis, late August is not soon enough, and Israeli Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz is under growing pressure to declare Olmert incapacitated.

At a press conference in Jerusalem on Sunday, Mazuz said that he agreed with the notion that a prime minister who has lost the public's trust can no longer make and implement difficult decisions, but insisted that it is not his role to dismiss or appoint the nation's leaders.

While Mazuz was meeting with reporters, Olmert set out to prove him wrong by announcing at a Mediterranean summit in Paris that he was bringing Israel closer than ever to a final status peace agreement with the Palestinians and direct peace negotiations with Syria.

Following talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert said he had agreed to release hundreds more jailed Palestinian terrorists as a goodwill gesture and to accelerate efforts to reach a final status peace deal that will result in the creation of a Palestinian Arab state on the biblical Jewish lands of Judea and Samaria.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni continued her public assault on Olmert, certain of the prime minister's imminent downfall and her chances of replacing him.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, where she is accompanying Olmert at the summit of Mediterranean nations, Livni stated that she had already formed a very negative opinion of the prime minister long before the latest scandal broke.

Livni rejected accusations by Olmert's office that police are conducting witch hunt and treating the prime minister too aggressively in the Israeli press.

Police officials have noted that Olmert is in fact receiving privileged treatment, as he sets the date and duration of every interview with investigators. They also noted that anyone but the prime minister would have already been arrested on such serious charges.

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