- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2008

JERUSALEM | Police revealed stinging new allegations against Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday, accusing him of pocketing tens of thousands of dollars by deceiving multiple sources into paying for the same trips abroad.

The latest revelations came just after police questioned Mr. Olmert for a third time in a widening corruption probe and made it even harder for him to hold on to his job and carry out peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria.

Police said Mr. Olmert is suspected of obtaining $100,000 before he became prime minister by getting multiple sources, including state and private companies, to pay for identical trips abroad so he could pocket the difference.

The allegations were the most damaging for Mr. Olmert since police accused him in May of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash-stuffed envelopes from an American entrepreneur when he was a Cabinet minister and mayor of Jerusalem.

After police questioned the prime minister for two hours at his official residence in Jerusalem, the police and Justice Ministry issued a statement saying that Mr. Olmert, “while serving as mayor of Jerusalem and as minister of industry and trade, is suspected of seeking funding for flights abroad in his official capacity from several sources at the same time … including the state.”

Each of these sources was asked to pay in full for the same flight, the statement said.

Police suspect the “considerable sums” that remained after a flight was paid for “were transferred by Olmert to a special account [his] travel agency administered for him. These monies were used to finance private trips abroad by Olmert and his family,” the statement said.

Police officials said Mr. Olmert also billed multiple sources for other expenses, such as hotels, on dozens of trips abroad - with the illicit funds amounting to about $100,000.

A senior police officer with the National Fraud Unit said the Rishon Tours travel agency “acted like a bank branch for the Olmert family.” Before going abroad, they would contact the agency to check the balance in Mr. Olmert’s account there and “order tickets,” said the officer, who agreed to discuss the case only if not quoted by name.

No one answered the phone at the agency’s offices Friday, a short business day in Israel because of the Jewish Sabbath beginning at sundown.

Through a spokesman, the prime minister insisted he broke no laws.

“Prime Minister Olmert is convinced that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and firmly believes that as this investigation continues, that innocence will become apparent to all,” said Mr. Olmert’s spokesman, Mark Regev.

Mr. Regev would not comment on the substance of the new suspicions.



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