Olmert: 'I'll resign if indicted'

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - In a nationally televised address late Thursday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he will resign if indicted for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit contributions.

"If Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decides to file an indictment against me, I shall resign immediately, even though I am not required by law to do so," Olmert said.

In the latest investigation against the prime minister, police suspect that he received large sums of money during his tenures as mayor of Jerusalem and as head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade in the Sharon government.

Olmert rejected the allegations.

"Citizens of Israel, I look you in the eye and I say to you, in no uncertain terms, that I have never taken a bribe, nor have I unlawfully pocketed money" Olmert said from his Jerusalem residence.

Olmert's remarks came after the court partially lifted a gag order on the investigation late Thursday evening, following the nation's Independence Day celebrations.

Last Friday, Israeli media reported that Lt. Commander Shlomo Ayalon, head of the National Fraud Unit, and two detectives interrogated the prime minister at his Jerusalem residence. But the gag order prevented further information from being made available.

Over the past 10 days, police tried four times to question Olmert's former secretary and bureau chief, Shula Zaken. She refused to cooperate and was put on house arrest, which is slated to be lifted today.

The other key player in the investigation is Morris Talansky, 75, a wealthy Orthodox Jewish philanthropist from Long Island, who has known Olmert for some 20 years.

A fund raiser and political contributor, Talansky has contributed to campaigns in the US and Israel.

Talansky's identity wasn't revealed in Israel until last night, when the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court partially lifted the gag order.

Earlier in the week, New York papers published Talanksy's identity and his alleged role in the current investigation of the prime minister.

Another prominent figure is Olmert's attorney, close friend and business partner Uri Messer.

Messer, who ran Olmert's 1988 mayoral campaign, has served as his legal counsel in a number of private real estate deals.

The two met in the mid-1970s at a Jerusalem law firm. In 1977, they left the firm, with a third attorney and then-secretary Shula Zaken, to open their own firm.

In his remarks last evening, Olmert said he turned over all campaign contributions to Messer.

"I have no doubt Messer managed the funds according to the letter of the law and that all funds were put toward elections and covering election deficits," he said.

In April 2007, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss charged Olmert with granting perks to a factory represented by Messer.

"Olmert did not avoid discussing or dealing with a matter that involved his friend, former partner and current attorney Uri Messer, who represented an enterprise that sought economic benefit from the State through the Investments Center of the Industry and Trade Ministry," Lindenstrauss said.

What will happen now?

The question now is whether Olmert's fragile government will weather the storm. Will Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak remain in the government? What will the ultra-Orthodox Shas party decide? Will elections be forthcoming? If Olmert is indicted and resigns from office, will Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni step up to the plate as interim prime minister?

All these questions remain to be answered.

While Ehud Olmert has managed to survive many investigations, this latest one seems to be gathering more momentum than in the past.

Likud Member of Knesset (MK) Limor Livnat said Olmert should step down now.

"The Kadima government is up to its neck in routine criminal investigations, and new elections must be held within 90 days," she said.

Sources: The Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, YNet news, Haaretz

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CBNNews.com - Jerusalem Bureau

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