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Israeli police grill Olmert again in graft probe

Latest update : 2008-07-11

Police are questioning Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, for the third time, over allegations that he granted favours to a US businessman in exchange for funds. The interrogation took place at Olmert's official residence.

Israeli police were on Friday questioning Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a third time over graft allegations that have prompted widespread calls for him to resign.
  
Media reports suggested that in the two hours they have been allocated the detectives would ask particularly tough questions based on documents and testimony investigators have gathered in the United States.
  
The grilling was taking place at the premier's official residence in Jerusalem, where he was also interrogated twice in May.
  
Authorities are trying to establish whether Olmert, 62, dispensed favours in exchange for funds he allegedly received illegally from millionaire US financier Morris Talansky during the 13 years before he became premier in 2006.
  
Olmert, who was Jerusalem mayor and trade and industry minister before becoming prime minister, has admitted receiving campaign funds from Talansky but denied suggestions of wrongdoing.
  
The allegations -- the latest to dog Olmert -- have stirred calls for his resignation and early elections even from within his centrist Kadima party and its Labour allies.
  
On Thursday Kadima agreed to hold a leadership primary election between September 14 and 18 under a deal with coalition partner Labour aimed at quenching a deep political crisis.
  
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is viewed as the front-runner in the primary election, while 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.
  
A survey of registered Kadima voters published by Yediot Aharonot newspaper showed Livni would win a primary with 37 percent while Mofaz would get 22 percent and Olmert 18 percent.
  
Should Olmert not run Livni would get 41 percent and Mofaz 30 percent, the poll results showed.
  
Seventy-nine percent said that Olmert must resign after the party primary and hand the premiership baton to whoever wins the leadership election.
  
Olmert has vowed to remain in office as long as he does not face indictment. But the Talansky case -- the fourth investigation to embroil the premier -- has whipped up a political storm.
  
The Labour party has threatened to quit the coalition if Olmert is not replaced, a move that would probably bring down the government and force a general election.
  
Talansky testified before a Jerusalem court in May that he had given Olmert thousands of dollars to finance his political ambitions and perhaps his taste for high living over a period of 15 years.
  
Olmert's legal team is scheduled to cross-examine Talansky next week. The premier's lawyer, Eli Zohar, told the Jerusalem district court that his team will need five days for the cross examination.

Date created : 2008-07-11

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