Israeli PM accused over illegal payments

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is suspected of illegally accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from an American citizen, Moshe Talansky, Israeli media reported tonight.

TV stations quoted a decision by an Israeli court late today to reduce the scope of the gagging order on the case.

Mr Olmert was questioned by police on Friday about the suspicions.

Even before the gagging order was loosened, Mr Olmert’s opponents were calling on him to resign. Mr Olmert is the target of several other investigations, but he has never been charged or convicted. He denies any wrongdoing.

If he is indicted, he would probably have to resign.

Mr Olmert later denied taking illegal campaign contributions.

He made a statement at his official residence after the gagging order was lifted.

In a statement broadcast live on local TV and radio stations, he said a lawyer handed his finances, and everything was legal.

He added “I never took bribes, I never took a penny for myself.”

But he said he would not fight to stay in office if he is charged.

Channel 10 TV reported that Mr Talansky was a middleman for illegal campaign contributions, and that he readily told Israeli interrogators everything he knew about the case.

The contributions were allegedly made while Mr Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem, before he became Israel’s prime minister. Channel 2 TV reported that police do not know what the money was used for.

Among the facts quashed by the gagging order until today was Mr Talansky’s name. Israeli media interviewed him in Jerusalem today, but he gave no details about the case. “I don’t understand what the big thing is,” he said.

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