July 13, 2008

Isreali media predicts end for Olmert

Israeli media predicts end for Olmert over new scandal

4 hours ago

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was under fire from the media on Sunday over fresh corruption allegations, with commentators saying the embattled premier's political career was all but over.

"Ehud Olmert is finished. Politicians, the leaders he will meet today in Paris, the prosecutor and the police, all of them know this. The only one who wants to ignore it is Olmert," wrote Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

Police suspect that on at least 12 occasions when Olmert was Jerusalem mayor or trade and industry minister he submitted multiple invoices to different organisations for the same trip, pocketing about 110,000 dollars (60,000 euros) in reimbursements, Yediot Aharonot reported.

Olmert, already the subject of four pending investigations, is accused of using the ill-gotten gains from speaking tours to finance private trips for himself and his family.

"Ehud Olmert needs to give up. Enough. This has already gone out of all bounds," Ben Caspit wrote on the front page of the Maariv newspaper. "This country needs a real government, not a shadow one."

The speaking tours were allegedly funded by several private organisations, including foundations for physically and mentally disabled children, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, and the American Friends of the IDF (Israeli army).

"Olmert made an illegal profit by speaking about Holocaust survivors, wounded kids, and soldiers." wrote Amir Oren, a columnist for the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.

"To his friends, Olmert is a frequent flyer, but to the police he's just a frequent liar," he added.

Olmert's own children have sought to distance themselves from the charges against their father. His two sons and two daughters released a joint statement to local media saying they knew nothing about the allegations.

"We want to make it unequivocally clear that we were specifically told that the plane tickets given to us were a gift from our father and were privately financed by him," the statement said, according to the Ynet news service.

The new claims surfaced on Friday after police questioned Olmert, 62, for the third time since May.

He is also accused of illegally receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash-stuffed envelopes from US millionaire financier Morris Talansky before he became prime minister in 2006.

Olmert, who took office in January 2006, has denied all the allegations and on Saturday night lashed out at investigators before heading to an international summit in Paris.

"I was shocked by the distorted reports on behalf of law enforcement entities. The only result will be the weakening of the public trust in law enforcement bodies," Olmert told reporters.

An aide to Olmert and key witness in the case insisted on Saturday that he had "never stolen a shekel," according to local media.

"The prime minister is neither a thief nor an imposter. He has never stolen a shekel or used public funds for family expenses," said Rachael Risby Raz, who organised Olmert's travels while he was trade and industry minister.

Since the Talansky affair broke in May Olmert has lost much of his support from his Labour coalition allies and even from within the ranks of his own centrist Kadima party, which has agreed to hold a leadership vote in September.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is viewed as the front-runner in the party election, but both Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter are also jockeying for the top job.

It remains unclear whether Olmert himself will seek to run again.


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