Israeli police seize documents in Olmert bribery investigation


JERUSALEM — Israeli police raided the offices of a government ministry on Tuesday, confiscating documents as part of a bribery investigation that could force out Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Officers from the National Fraud unit entered the industry, trade, and labour ministry, and took away documents “as part of the ongoing investigation”, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Olmert headed the ministry from 2003 to 2006, before becoming prime minister.

He admitted last week that he took cash from an American businessman at the centre of the investigation but he has denied any wrongdoing. Olmert said he would resign if indicted.

The investigation could overshadow a visit starting Wednesday by U.S. President George W. Bush to mark Israel’s 60th birthday and to promote peacemaking with the Palestinians.

On Monday, police confiscated documents from Jerusalem city hall, where Olmert served as mayor from 1993 to 2003.

Legal sources say police suspect that Olmert took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the businessman, New York Jewish financier Morris Talansky, over a decade in coded payments.

Olmert said any funds from Talansky were contributions to two campaigns for Jerusalem mayor in the 1990s and for posts in his former political party, Likud, in 1999 and 2002.

Current Israeli law broadly prohibits political donations of more than a few hundred dollars.

An opinion poll in a major Israeli newspaper on Monday showed that a majority of Israelis want Olmert to resign or go on leave over the scandal and do not believe his denials. Olmert, who once described himself as “indestructible”, has survived several earlier corruption investigations.