Mayor of Jerusalem is accused of fraud Possible criminal charges linked to Likud fund-raising

June 12, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli attorney general has announced his intention to charge Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, with fraud in a scheme to raise funds for right-wing candidates in the 1988 elections for Parliament.

The felony charges would put a cloud over the political career of Olmert, 50, an adviser to Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, and a rising star in the Likud bloc. Formal charges could short-circuit Olmert's rumored appointment to Netanyahu's Cabinet.

A spokesman for the mayor said Olmert would have no comment on the matter until he receives "all the official documents."

He was presented with a draft of five charges, which carry possible prison terms ranging from five to seven years, in a meeting with the attorney general Sunday.

The charges stem from Olmert's role in the 1988 Likud fund-raising campaign for Knesset candidates. According to the charges, Olmert set up a scheme to attract corporate contributions by making out false invoices to contributors showing the money was spent for business purposes.

That way, the companies deducted the contributions from their income tax as business expenses, according to the charges. The contributions never were recorded in the campaign books, thus circumventing campaign contribution limits.

Two people have been convicted on related charges and are expected to give evidence against Olmert. They are awaiting sentencing.

A statement released by Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair said Olmert would be given the option of meeting with Ben-Yair, after which a "final decision" would be made whether formally to file an indictment.

According to constitutional law expert Asher Maoz, the attorney general would first have to seek Knesset approval to lift the immunity from prosecution that Olmert enjoys as a member of parliament.

Olmert defeated Teddy Kollek, the long-time mayor allied with the Labor Party, to take over Jerusalem's City Hall in 1993. He has advocated forcing Palestinian political organizations out of Arab East Jerusalem.

"These are serious charges," said attorney Menachem Hofnung, a lecturer at the Hebrew University Department of Political Science. "This will be a blow to his career."

There was little reaction to the announcement yesterday, in part because the allegations have been known publicly for months. There is little stigma in Israel for public officials who face legal charges.

"In the last eight years, about 50 mayors were investigated by the police on suspicions of bribery, embezzlement and fraud," Hofnung found in a study last year. "Eleven Knesset members were convicted of or investigated on similar charges."

A Supreme Court decision in a corruption case against Aryeh Deri, the leader of the Orthodox religious party Shas, bars people from serving in an appointed ministerial position while charges are pending. Olmert could remain as mayor and member of the Knesset unless he is convicted of a crime, according to Israeli law.

Olmert's defenders hinted that the announcement by Ben-Yair was politically motivated, coming on the day when rumors swirled that he would be replaced by the incoming government.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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