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Middle east

Former PM Olmert indicted for corruption

Video by Pauline PACCARD

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-08-31

Israel's former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been indicted on three counts of corruption, the office of the attorney general has announced. Olmert resigned in September over the allegations but stayed in office as caretaker until March.

AFP - Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was indicted on three counts of corruption on Sunday, becoming the first ex-premier to face criminal charges, the attorney general's office said.
  
"The attorney general... has decided to press charges against former prime minister Ehud Olmert," the office of Attorney General Menahem Mazuz said in a statement. "The charge sheet was presented today in Jerusalem district court."
  
The 61-page charge sheet accuses Olmert of "fraud, breach of trust, registering false corporate documents, and concealing fraudulent earnings," related to three of the scandals that dogged him when he was in office.
  
Olmert's personal secretary Shula Zaken was also indicted on several counts, the statement said.
  
A spokesman at Mazuz's office said that the 63-year-old Olmert becomes the first former or current prime minister in Israeli history to face criminal charges.
  
Olmert has always insisted he is innocent and his spokesman said on Sunday the trial would vindicate him.
  
"After having deposed an acting prime minister, it is obvious that the attorney general and the state prosecutor have no other choice than to indict Olmert," said Amir Dan, the spokesman.
  
"The court of justice on the other hand is clean of such foreign considerations. Therefore Olmert is convinced that in court he will be able to prove his innocence once and for all."
  
Olmert resigned in September over the corruption allegations but remained in office as caretaker until late March, when the hawkish Likud party head Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in following February 10 elections.
  
Olmert was indicted for allegedly unlawfully accepting gifts -- including cash-stuffed envelopes -- from the Jewish-American businessman Morris Talansky, and for multiple-billing foreign trips in the so-called Rishon Tours affair.
  
He has also been charged with cronyism in relation to an investment centre he oversaw when he was minister of trade and industry between 2003 and 2006.
  
All the charges concern alleged actions taken before Olmert became prime minister, when he served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 and then as minister of trade and industry from 2003 to 2006.
  
Mazuz had previously dropped three other corruption investigations against Olmert, whom Time Magazine named Israel's most able politician when he formally assumed office in May 2006.
  
The various investigations, involving repeated police interrogations, weighed heavily on Olmert's final months in office, prompting a wave of calls for him to step down.
  
The indictment comes amid a string of scandals that have hit Israeli public officials in recent years, with three former ministers handed prison sentences and both of Israel's most recent former presidents resigning in disgrace.
  
Police earlier this month recommended that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman be indicted on charges of bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice, while former president Moshe Katsav is on trial on several counts of rape, sexual harassment and indecent acts.
  
Olmert had formally assumed office in May 2006 after several months of serving as acting prime minister when his predecessor and political mentor Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke and fell into a coma at the start of that year.
  
Under his stewardship, Israel became embroiled in a war against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia in July-August 2006, a conflict for which he was widely criticised, with his popularity ratings at one point plunging into the single digits.
  
But he redeemed his image to a certain extent when he presided over Israel's three-week assault on the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip at the turn of the year, which was widely seen as a success among Israelis.
  
Olmert relaunched peace talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at an international conference held in the United States in November 2007 after a nearly seven-year hiatus, but the negotiations made little progress and were suspended during the Gaza war.

Date created : 2009-08-30

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