Friday, September 08, 2006

Olmert Under Investigation

Olmert Under Investigations From All Angles
19:02 Sep 05, '06 / 12 Elul 5766
by Hillel Fendel

While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attempts to withstand public calls to investigate his government's mishandling of the war, investigations of his private affairs are underway on several fronts.

The Prime Minister is being investigated for selling a house for well over its value, political appointments, accepting bribes - and now, for helping his lawyer's lobbying efforts. A brief summary follows:

1. Looking Out for His Friend's Business Interests
The newest allegations, reported by Haaretz, are that the Prime Minister advanced the interests of his friend and lawyer Uri Messer to the tune of millions of shekels while serving as Minister of Industry and Trade. Olmert allegedly held meetings at Messer's request and in his presence, took action at his behest, and created at least an impression of conflict of interest.

In one incident, businessman E.F. requested Industry Ministry recognition for a factory he wished to build in Dimona - a benefit worth $15 million. The Ministry officials did not approve the request, whereupon F. hired Messer to "get things done for [me]," and Messer had a meeting with Olmert and others on the matter. Olmert then instructed his staff to expedite the request, and in fact the Ministry then decided to pay for [subsidize] 75% of the cost of development of the land.

In another case, Olmert acted on behalf of the Shemen company, also represented by Atty. Messer. Shemen objected to the lowering of an import levy on oils from abroad from 4.5% to 3%. Olmert convened a special meeting with a Shemen representative and others, following which Olmert changed his decision and ordered the levy back up to 4%.

In these and other cases, it appears that Messer received a financial bonus for his successful lobbying efforts in the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Olmert did not, as he should have, report to the Comptroller or to the Attorney General on the possible conflict of interest, and did not disqualify himself from dealing with the requests.

2. Political Appointments
Olmert is alleged to have appointed friends and political allies to public high-paying positions when he was Minister of Industry and Trade. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has advised Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to conduct a criminal probe against Olmert on the issue.

Both Olmert and his chief of staff allegedly created lucrative management positions for Likud Central Committee members in the ministry's Small and Medium Enterprise Authority. The Prime Minister denies all charges, explaining, “The administration of the Ministry of Industry and Trade acted to change the statutes in order to implement the findings of an external report written by an organizational consultant pointing to previous deficiencies in the authority.”

It is alleged that some of those hired did not even work, but rather came in periodically merely to receive their salaries and to sign some papers.

3. The Apartment on Carmiya St.
Also under investigation by the State Comptroller is the purchase by Olmert and his wife of a luxury apartment in Jerusalem's Moshava Germanit neighborhood for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than its value; some estimates are that he actually "saved" one million dollars. In return, Olmert is alleged to have intervened with Jerusalem city officials on behalf of the developer, convincing them to raze the city-declared historic landmark that had previously stood on the site and allow him to double the number of units he was going to build there.

4. The Pens Bribe
Olmert stands accused of obstructing justice and a police investigation by "removing from his house 240 expensive fountain pens that he received as bribes," journalist Yoav Yitzchak writes on his Hebrew NFC news site. Olmert, a known pen-collector, allegedly received the pens from dozens of people over the course of the past few years, when he served as Mayor of Jerusalem and Minister of Trade, among other positions. The pens are worth between 1,500 and 25,000 shekels each, for a total of hundreds of thousands of dollars. A complaint on the matter has been submitted to Attorney General Mazuz and the State Comptroller by the Ometz anti-corruption organization.

NFC also reported that, over the past year, Olmert decided to hide some of the pens and remove them from his home. He purchased six leather 40-pen pouches, for 1,000 shekels each, packed the pens in the pouches and removed them from his home. NFC reports that at one point, Olmert acted on behalf of German businessman Alexander Tessler to have a golf course in Eilat removed from Israel Lands Authority jurisdiction. Yitzchak noted that Olmert did not succeed, but that Tessler later bought Olmert a pen valued at between $900 and $1,750.

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