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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

[Israeli] PM likely to face criminal probe in Bank Leumi affair

Last update - 22:18 09/01/2007   

PM likely to face criminal probe in Bank Leumi affair
By Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondent and TheMarker

The State Prosecution is expected to open a criminal investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the near future, on suspicion that he acted to further the interests of friends in business while serving as acting finance minister in 2005, Channel 10 reported on Tuesday.
The criminal investigation will likely be opened upon Olmert's return from China.
In October 2006, the media reported that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was investigating suspicions that Olmert, as finance minister when Bank Leumi was sold, abused his status to change the terms in a manner that would have benefited his associate Frank Lowy.
Olmert is suspected of having tried to tilt the tender in the sale of Bank Leumi to help Lowy, his friend and a real estate magnate.
Accountant-General Yaron Zelekha, a key witness in the Leumi case, testified before the State Comptroller regarding the suspicions against Olmert in the affair.
Sources at the comptroller's office think Zelekha's evidence is damning. Sources in the prime minister's office, however, claim that Olmert's behavior was impeccable and the Zelekha, who had been appointed by former finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is biased.
A source near Olmert commented, "Two elements are devoted to ruining Olmert: State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and the accountant-general, Zelekha."
The police will apparently be looking into the privatization of Bank Leumi, but may also question the prime minister about political appointments at the Small Business Administration and his relations with his former partner, attorney Uri Messer.
Mazuz will not be making decisions in the case, because his sister Yemima Mazuz was involved in the sale of Bank Leumi. The decisions will be handled by the chief prosecutor, Eran Shendar.
Mazuz also recently began looking into suspicions that Olmert sold his apartment to Abrams at an inflated price, and that he continued to stay there at particularly low rent.
Abrams is thought to belong to a group of private investors that sought Bank of Israel approval to buy the controlling interest in Bank Leumi together with the Cerberus-Gabriel group.
If it is proven that Olmert did make changes that benefited Abrams, the Bank of Israel is likely to disqualify him. That could hinder the Cerberus-Gabriel group's intention to complete its takeover of the bank by May 2007, which is when their options expire.

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