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Police Question Israeli PM Olmert in Expanding Corruption Scandal

By Robert Berger
11 July 2008

Investigators have disclosed new allegations against Israel's embattled prime minister in a corruption probe. The Scandal could bring change in leadership, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Police questioned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a third time in a corruption scandal that could force him to step down. Afterwards, police issued a statement saying they have broadened the investigation.

They charge that Mr. Olmert got several institutions to fund official trips abroad and then pocketed the difference. This allegedly occurred when Mr. Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and a Cabinet minister, posts he served in before becoming prime minister in 2006.

The prime minister was questioned a week before the key witness in the case, American-Jewish businessman Morris Talansky, faces cross-examination in a Jerusalem court.

Talansky has testified that he gave Mr. Olmert envelopes stuffed with cash to support a lavish lifestyle, also when he was a Cabinet minister and mayor of Jerusalem. He said some of the $150,000 he gave to Mr. Olmert over a 15-year period was used for first-class airfare, and expensive hotels and cigars. Talansky said he donated the money for Mr. Olmert's political campaigns and to help Israel.

Mr. Olmert's lawyers hope that cross-examination will punch holes in Talansky's story, but Israeli analyst Mitchell Barak says it is too little, too late.

"I think the prime minister at this point has passed the point of no return in the court of public opinion. No matter what he really does or says, even if he can successfully discredit Talansky, I think the damage has already been done," said Barak.

Mr. Olmert denies any wrongdoing but says that if indicted, he will step down. But he may be forced out of office before then. The prime minister's own Kadima party is planning primaries in September to replace him.

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