Israeli police question Olmert for fourth time
Saturday, 02 August 2008

Bribery, fraud charge

REUTERS, JERUSALEM- Israeli police questioned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a fourth time on Friday in their ongoing bribery and fraud investigation, two days after the Israeli leader said he would step down.

Police are probing allegations that Olmert took bribes from an American businessman and made duplicate claims for travel expenses when he was trade minister and mayor of Jerusalem.

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, Olmert said he would quit as soon as a new leader of Kadima was elected next month but vowed to continue peace talks with the Palestinians and Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria until his last day in office.

The prime minister has faced a handful of inquiries recently into his past financial affairs as mayor of Jerusalem for 10 years until 2003 and subsequently as a cabinet minister until he succeeded the ailing Ariel Sharon in early 2006.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said investigators had originally requested a lengthy mid-week session but Olmert's office had allotted only two hours on Friday from the prime minister's schedule.

Last month Olmert's lawyers spent five days cross-examining American fundraiser Morris Talansky, who has alleged he gave the Israeli leader cash-filled envelopes. The cross-examination will resume for two days on August 31.

Top advisers said Olmert could stay in office for months as caretaker prime minister, long enough to pursue the peace talks, but politicians said he had no mandate to commit Israel to any deals.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Thursday that she continued to hope for a peace deal with the Palestinians this year and called on all parties that support peace to unite.

Four Kadima ministers have launched campaigns to replace Olmert in the September 17 vote. Livni is the frontrunner and her closest rival is Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense chief known for his tough tactics in crushing a Palestinian uprising.

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