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Olmert under pressure to resign after indictment

Video by Shona BHATTACHARYYA

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-28

Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces mounting pressure to resign following a decision to indict him in one of several graft cases that are now under investigation. Olmert has said he does not intend to leave the caretaker post.

Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday faced pressure from his own government to step down following a decision to indict him in one of several graft cases over which police questioned him.
   
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was among the officials who urged Olmert to quit the government.
   
"The prime minister has to take a leave of absence, there's no other choice," said Livni, who hopes to become prime minister after February 10 elections.
   
"Israel cannot tolerate a situation where he is acting as prime minister after a decision to indict him. This is a moral test, this is a question of values and a practical test," Livni said at a meeting of the governing Kadima party in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv.
   
Should Olmert declare himself incapacitated, Livni who heads the centrist party, would take over as head of the caretaker government until a new government is formed after the elections.
   
Several other officials urged Olmert to quit the caretaker government.
   
Olmert presented his resignation in September but remains acting prime minister.
   
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz had notified Olmert on Wednesday that he "envisages pressing criminal charges over suspicions of wrongdoing."
   
The charges relate to allegations of multiple-billing of foreign trips at the time when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and then trade and industry minister before he took office as prime minister in 2006.
   
Olmert is alleged to have used the ill-gotten gains to pay for private trips.
   
"It is a tragic day for the state of Israel," said Labour MP Ophir Pines Paz. "It is not acceptable that a person accused of a crime against the state should continue to hold the post of prime minister," he told journalists.
   
Olmert's office made it clear he did not intend to leave his position at the head of the caretaker government, stressing he already quit as prime minister.
   
"In these circumstances, there is no legal reason to announce a further resignation," his office said in a statement.
   
Mazuz's announcement came just two months before the snap elections that were called after Livni failed to garner enough support to form a government following Olmert's resignation.
   
Olmert's camp was furious over the timing of the announcement, which came just as the caretaker premier was getting off his plane following a farewell visit to US President George W. Bush in Washington.
   
"This is a planned ambush under the auspices of the law enforcement authorities," said Olmert's spokesman Amir Dan.
   
Olmert's lawyers described the prospect of charges in the case as "strange and even unreasonable."
   
Olmert could face charges of fraud, abuse of confidence, falsification of documents and making ill-gotten gains but no date has yet been set for him to be charged, the attorney general's office said.
   
He has faced police questioning 10 times since May over a number of different allegations.
   
In September, police recommended that Olmert face charges in the multiple billing case as well as in another case in which he allegedly accepted tens of thousands of dollars of illegal funds from US businessman Morris Talansky.
   
The prime minister is also suspected of steering tens of millions of dollars worth of state funds towards a company owned by his former law partner, Uri Messer, while he was trade minister.
   
The allegations, all of which Olmert denies, only surfaced earlier this year even though they concern events that took place in the 13 years before he took office in 2006.
   
The political turmoil that followed Olmert's resignation in September and Livni's inability to form a new governing coalition has dealt a major blow to the already slow-moving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that were relaunched one year ago.

 

Date created : 2008-11-27

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