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Israeli Police Question PM Olmert in Corruption Probe

  • Robert Berger

Israel's embattled prime minister has been grilled again by police in a corruption probe. The investigation is casting a shadow over peace efforts, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Police questioned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a sixth time at his official residence here in Jerusalem. The investigation is focusing on the testimony of an American Jewish businessman, who said he gave Mr. Olmert envelopes stuffed with cash to support a lavish lifestyle when he was a Cabinet minister and mayor of Jerusalem.

During the same period, police also suspect that Mr. Olmert double and triple-billed institutions for official trips abroad and pocketed the difference.

The prime minister denies any wrongdoing, but in the wake of the investigation, he announced last month that he will resign when his Kadima party chooses a new leader in primaries in September.

So Mr. Olmert is in a weak position ahead of talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will visit Israel and the Palestinian-ruled West Bank next week. Washington is continuing to push for a peace agreement before President Bush leaves office in January.

As a lame duck, Mr. Olmert is widely seen as lacking the political clout to deliver on a peace deal. But under Israel's complicated political system, he could remain in power for many more months.

His spokesman Mark Regev says he will work for peace until his last day in office.

"Prime Minister Olmert is the prime minister at the moment, and as long as he is prime minister he will act within his constitutional powers. He has the responsibility on his shoulders and he will fulfill that responsibility," he said.

Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti believes that Mr. Olmert has done nothing to advance the peace process and will be even more ineffective as a lame duck.

"Olmert's biggest failure is that he has proven that up till now there is no partner for peace in Israel," he said.

Mr. Olmert has said that achieving the U.S. goal of a peace agreement by the end of the year is impossible because of deep differences with the Palestinians over the future of Jerusalem.

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