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Olmert To Be Indicted?

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: 'I Never Took A Bribe Or One Cent To My Own Pocket'

'My Lawyer Uri Messer Handled All Contributions To My Political Campaigns & I Have Complete Trust That He Administered Them To The Best Of His Professional Ability And Legally As Well'

Moshe Morris Talansky of New York: 'Since 1993 I Have Often Given Money To Olmert, Some Of It In Cash'

PM Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Israelis had just ended gala celebrations for their sixtieth Independence Day when the Olmert scandal erupted. After days of rumors, a Tel Aviv court lifted the gag order on an intense police enquiry into large sums of undeclared contributions to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by Moshe Talansky, a New York businessman.

Ehud Olmert's days as prime minister may now be numbered. IsraCast is of the view that the latest revelations that Morris Talansky of New York gave Olmert large sums of money which were not legally declared raises many difficult questions that the Prime Minister has yet to explain. Appearing at a news conference, after an Israeli court lifted the gag order on the case, Olmert did not deny receiving the money but he said that his personal friend and lawyer, Uri Messer was in charge of all his campaign funding. The Prime Minister categorically denied that he 'ever took a bribe or that one cent (of campaign funds) ever reached his pocket'.

In a TV interview with Channel 2 TV, Talansky himself never said he had tried to bribe Olmert who received the money while running for Mayor of Jerusalem and as a cabinet minister. Even if that is the case, Olmert may be in violation of the campaign funding law and not reporting the money to the income tax authority. Omri Sharon, the son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now serving a prison term for a similar offense.

The question now being asked is has Olmert set up his lawyer Uri Messer as the 'fall guy' in the police investigation? Messer himself has already been interrogated by police and reportedly 'cooperated' with the investigation. If so, Messer may have implicated Olmert - that the Prime Minister was being fully aware of what was going on with the Talensky money. (Incidentally, the lawyer-client confidentiality will not hold in the Olmert-Messer link if the lawyer was also involved in breaking the law). Another key personality is Olmert's former secretary Shula Zaken who handled Olmert's numerous meetings with Talensky. She reportedly referred to Talansky in her appointments diary as 'the laundry man'.

Political Fallout: By declaring his innocence and pledging to resign if indicted, the Prime Minister is obviously trying to fend off the Likud Opposition's demand that he resign immediately or at least take a leave of absence until the police enquiry is completed. This could take months. As for Olmert's coalition government it is standing pat, for the time being. His ruling Kadima party is likely to adopt a 'wait and see' approach - his main Kadima rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says she has confidence in the legal system and hopes the enquiry will be conducted as expeditiously as possible. Labor party leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has adopted a similar line. However, Attorney General Meni Mazuz and Chief Prosecutor Moshe Lador are now calling the shots. Although it could take months for the full enquiry to be completed and a possible indictment of the prime minister, it will be almost impossible for Olmert to remain in office if the legal authorities reach the conclusion there are serious grounds for indicting Olmert. (This was indeed the case with former Finance Minister Hirschson who resigned although he has not yet been officially indicted for financial fraud).

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (Photo: Amit Shabi)

If Olmert is forced to take a one-hundred day leave of absence, Deputy Premier Tzipi Livni would take over as prime minister. If Olmert resigned, Kadima would have to choose a new leader. In the past, Shaul Mofaz and Meir Sheetrit signaled they would be in the running. Kadima and Labor could then carry on with their current coalition partnership with Shas. Although some Labor backbenchers have called on Labor to force Olmert to resign and risk an early election, Barak and the Labor cabinet ministers do not favor an early election which the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu would likely win.

And what of Olmert's current contacts with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? It appears inconceivable that a prime minister whose political days may be numbered will be able to conduct a peace process. And that is why Palestinian sources are now repeating the Israeli argument that without Olmert there will be 'no peace partner on the other side'. If anything, Ehud Olmert is known for his political survival skills. However, this time may be his toughest challenge, if some of his closest aides are ready to testify against him.

Super-Deal Jerusalem

סופר-דיל ירושלים

David Essing

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