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Israeli Police Raid Government Offices in Olmert Corruption Probes


Israeli police investigating corruption allegations against the prime minister have launched a series of raids in Jerusalem. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the investigations could have implications on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

More than 100 police raided government and private offices in expanding criminal investigations of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. More than 20 locations were targeted, including the Industry and Trade Ministry, the Postal Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality.

There are three investigations involving suspicions of bribery, fraud and breach of trust when Mr. Olmert was a cabinet minister and Jerusalem mayor a few years ago.

In one case, Mr. Olmert allegedly bought his house in Jerusalem for 300-thousand dollars below the market value, in exchange for helping a developer obtain construction permits.

In another case, investigators suspect that Mr. Olmert interfered in the sale of Israel's second-largest bank to help two wealthy friends. He is also suspected of steering a government grant to a friend and arranging improper political appointments.

The Prime Minister denies any wrongdoing, but if indicted he could be forced to step down.

Michael Partem of the Movement for Quality Government believes the investigations will be a distraction for Mr. Olmert and his Cabinet at a time of crucial peace talks with the Palestinians and a looming nuclear crisis with Iran.

"We elected them to a job . We pay our taxes and those taxes pay their salaries. We are entitled to their best efforts, their full time efforts," Partem said. "And the situation, almost unprecedented situation we are in now, is that we have basically a part-time government."

The investigations have further eroded public support for Mr. Olmert, whose popularity plunged after last year's inconclusive war in Lebanon. That could make it harder for the Prime Minister to offer territorial concessions to the Palestinians at an international peace conference in the United States planned for the end of this month. The conference will focus on the creation of a Palestinian state.

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