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Israeli Police Question PM in Connection with Corruption Scandal

Israeli police have opened a criminal investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, it is the latest in a series of scandals that has eroded public support in the government.

Three police investigators arrived at the official residence of Prime Minister Olmert in Jerusalem to question him on suspicion of breach of trust. They suspect that when he was finance minister two years ago, he interfered in the sale of Israel's second largest bank to help two wealthy friends. In the end, they never submitted a formal bid.

Yaron Zelicha, accountant-general of the Finance Ministry, uncovered the scandal.

He told Israel Radio that Mr. Olmert tried to lower the price of the bank to help his friends.

Mr. Olmert denies any wrongdoing. But if indicted he could be forced to step down.

It is one of several corruption scandals that have dogged the Prime Minister, including a real estate deal. Police suspect bribery and fraud because Mr. Olmert bought his house in Jerusalem at 300-thousand dollars below the market value, allegedly in exchange for helping a developer obtain construction permits. This occurred when he was a Cabinet minister in 2004.

Attorney Daniel Kiros of the Movement for Quality Government says it is a sorry state of affairs.

"Let's look where we have come in the State of Israel when we have a situation of a government and governmental system which is so full of corruption," he said. "The people who we have entrusted to run our affairs and run our lives must, of course, be subject to the law just like anyone else."

While the investigation poses no immediate threat to Mr. Olmert's job, it could be a distraction at time of sensitive negotiations with the Palestinians. The sides are trying to hammer out a joint document on Palestinian statehood to be presented at an international peace conference in the United States this year.