Could this be the end of the line for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert?
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday said he would not let a new police investigation into his conduct prevent him from doing his job – his first public comments on an affair that has threatened to further weaken him politically as he tries to make peace with the Palestinians.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s arrival in the region this weekend only highlighted concerns that Olmert might be too weak to shepherd through a peace deal that would require Israel to cede long-held land to the Palestinians.
The investigation is the fifth against Olmert since his government took office exactly two years ago and the latest in a longer string of probes to dog him during his three decades in politics. He has not been charged in the most recent corruption investigations, and has never been convicted of wrongdoing.
Still, the corruption probes have hurt his standing, which also has been battered by the inconclusive 2006 war in Lebanon, and ongoing Palestinian rocket and mortar fire at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
The affair touched off a media tempest, with newspaper front pages and radio stations focusing almost exclusively on Olmert’s new predicament. Political opponents quickly predicted that Olmert’s days at Israel’s helm were numbered.
Against the backdrop of this latest investigation, the prime minister canceled traditional Independence Day interviews with Israel Radio, Army Radio and the news Website Ynet. His office confirmed the cancellations, citing the gag order on the investigation.
According to sources in Kadima “this is a blow to the party, which only now has begun to recuperate in the polls and rehabilitate itself from the damages of the Winograd [2006 Second Lebanon War probe] report. This affair sounds dramatic, and is not confined to Olmert. We are all hurt by it. Either this is really serious, or [Attorney General Menachem] Mazuz will have a lot of explaining to do about how a prime minister was almost arrested on Friday.”
Associates of the prime minister said that precisely now, “when Olmert is finally on the right track and is promoting political processes, an investigation such as this is a painful blow.”
According to sources close to the investigation, the evidence against the prime minister is “very serious.”
“The initial evidence collected has been sufficiently sound, and there is a real basis for the suspicions against Olmert,” a police source said.
Police said Saturday that they view this as the most serious case against the prime minister with the strongest evidence.
A Justice Ministry source close to the investigation said Saturday that the PM is not likely to be interviewed again in the coming days. The source described the evidence against Olmert as “not insignificant.”
Attorney Yehoshua Resnick, a former deputy state prosecutor, said Saturday that there is nothing wrong with urgent interviews, but acknowledged that he does not recall any instances in which a public figure was called in for questioning with the urgency that Olmert has been.
“In the past there have been quick interviews that were authorized by the State Prosecutor’s Office,” Resnick said. “For example, raids on a ministry where it was suspected material essential to an investigation was being destroyed. Such an urgent investigation is normally required to prevent coordination of testimonies with other suspects or the need to receive initial testimony from a suspect.
Meanwhile, according to the Jerusalem Post, one of Olmert’s tactics is disguising himself.
Total Recall, anyone?
(thanks to David for sending me this latest Jerusalem Post screw-up)