Further raids in Israeli PM corruption probe

ISRAELI police raided the Ministry of Industry and Trade yesterday, seizing documents in a widening corruption investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Investigators from the National Fraud Unit searched the offices “in connection with the Olmert investigation,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Olmert headed up the ministry from 2003 to 2006.

The investigation, the fifth into Olmert’s conduct since he became prime minister two years ago, has raised doubts about his ability to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians and provoked speculation about his ability to remain in office. Olmert has said he will resign if indicted.

On Monday, police also raided City Hall, confiscating documents related to Olmert’s tenure as Jerusalem mayor from 1993 to 2003, and his subsequent years as Israel’s minister of industry and trade.

Olmert, who has denied any wrongdoing, is suspected of illicitly receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Jewish-American businessman Morris Talansky.

Talansky has insisted that all of his actions on behalf of Olmert were legal.

Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot yesterday reported that Olmert helped to have land rezoned for associates of Talansky, as well as promoting their bids for government projects.

The report was the first indication of what Olmert might have done in return for the cash he allegedly received.

Yesterday, lawyer for Talansky, Jacques Chen dismissed the newspaper report, saying Talansky “has no connection to this.”

The investigation has cast a pall over Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations and embarrassed Olmert before US President George W Bush’s second visit to Israel in just four months.

Bush is due to arrive in Israel today for a three-day visit marking Israel’s anniversary. Ahead of the visit, he told Israeli media that his relations with Olmert were “excellent” and he called the Israeli leader an “honest guy.”

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