Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Indicted in Corruption Case
Monday, August 31, 2009
JERUSALEM, Aug. 30 -- Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was indicted Sunday in a corruption scandal that led to his resignation last year and set the stage for a rightward shift in Israeli politics.
Prosecutors alleged that Olmert, as mayor of Jerusalem in the 1990s and later as trade minister, profited from a double-billing scheme in which he charged charities and the government for trips and expenses already paid by other organizations.
About $90,000 collected for trips -- often to the United States and sponsored by major Jewish groups -- was allegedly accumulated in his account at a travel agency and then used for personal vacations and other expenses, according to the indictment.
His former office manager, Shula Zaken, 52, also was indicted in the case.
The 61-page indictment includes charges related to Olmert's acceptance of as much as $150,000 from New York businessman Morris Talansky -- funds that Talansky testified last summer were meant for Olmert's political campaigns but that he believed were used for personal purposes.
Throughout the investigation Olmert, 63, has maintained his innocence, and a spokesman told local media Sunday that Olmert expected to be exonerated.
Noting that other allegations against Olmert were dropped without charges being brought, spokesman Amir Dan told the daily Haarertz that Olmert "is convinced that he will once and for all be able to prove his innocence in court."
The investigation undermined Olmert's already troubled tenure as head of the Israeli government and complicated efforts last fall to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Olmert rose to the prime minister's chair in 2006 after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke.
He was quickly embroiled in a war with the Lebanese Hezbollah militia that resulted in what by Israeli standards were unacceptable losses of troops and equipment. His management of the conflict was widely criticized and resulted in calls for him to step down.
Then authorities broadened an ongoing probe to include the double-billing allegations, which involved appearances and other work Olmert did on behalf of groups such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
In July 2008, Olmert announced that he would not compete in an upcoming primary for the leadership of his Kadima party. He formally submitted his resignation as prime minister in September, setting the stage for a February election.
Throughout his months as a lame duck, he continued pushing for a peace deal in negotiations with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, but the talks collapsed in December.
In the election, Israelis favored right-wing parties, including the Likud faction of current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, over the more centrist Kadima.
Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.