On a normal day in Israel, a statement made by an Israeli prime minister on a state visit to France, indicating peace between Israelis and Arabs was “never closer” would break into every daily newscast and generate unprecedented enthusiasm throughout Israel.. On a normal day in Israel, such a news item from the prime minister would galvanize Israel’s commentators across the wide Jerusalem political spectrum into a flow of talk shows, lectures, and media events of every imaginable kind.
However, this past Sunday was not a normal day for this Israeli prime minister.
It was the day that his own attorney lead the news in all of the Israeli media with a news item that the Israel State Attorney had accumulated enough material to indict Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Mr. Olmert would probably have to choose between a plea bargain and/or a prison sentence, both of which would also force his resignation.
All this comes in the light of accumulated evidence that Mr. Olmert had received envelopes of cash from foreign business people who had sought favors from him.
On Sunday, to make matters worse, while the Israeli prime minister hobnobbed with world leaders in Paris, all of the Israeli media headlined copies of receipts that had been given by a travel agency to Mr. Olmert. They showed at least 12 international flights had been paid two or three times, while Mr. Olmert allegedly pocketed the difference.
At least seven prominent American philanthropic organizations paid fees for the same flights that the Israeli government paid for.
This allegedly enabled Mr. Olmert to open up an account with the travel agency that he had used for additional flights and also for his family members and friends.
The Israel State Attorney’s Office came to the conclusion that in addition to the offenses attributed to Mr. Olmert, suspicions also existed that he had committed tax offenses deriving from these counts.
Among other things, Mr. Olmert is suspected of receiving unreported funds, while benefits received from various figures were taxable and an annual report was required to have been submitted to the tax authorities. Such a report was not found in the Israel Tax Authority.
A senior ITA investigator likely will be included in one of the upcoming questioning sessions to which the prime minister will be summoned. Questions likely will be posed to Mr. Olmert on the suspicion that he evaded taxes.
Sources in the ITA affirm that the taxation aspects of the affair were being examined in coordination with the Israel State Attorney’s Office.
It has further been reported that the Israeli police believe that friends and/or spouses of Mr. Olmert’s two sons and his daughter also flew abroad at using funds accumulated by Mr. Olmert as a result of the double and triple financing of his flights abroad, through the same travel agency.
Meanwhile, the Israel police fraud squad plan to summon testimony from Aliza Olmert, the prime minister’s wife, and the rest of his family members, to learn about the funding source of their many flights.
One of Aliza Olmert’s trips to an exhibition of her paintings in New York in 2005 allegedly was fully funded by “accumulated funds” at the same travel agency.
The person who handled the invitations for the opening of Aliza Olmert’s photo exhibition in New York was none other than a senior Israeli government official who was working for Mr. Olmert when he served as a cabinet minister in the Israel Department of Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry.
All invitations were sent on official Israel government stationery, while Mr. Olmert’s trip was paid for directly from the state budget.
Mr. Olmert’s assertion that he had merely “transferred” travel points to his family, which he had accumulated as a result of his many flights abroad, was not a version of the events that the Israeli police could accept.
Over the next few days, the former director of the Prime Minister Olmert’s bureau will be questioned by the fraud squad.
In this context, Mr. Olmert’s proclamations of peace and reconciliation were taken with a ton of salt, while every satire program on Israel’s television and radio newsreels was funnier than the next, bristling with derision at the prime minister.
The term “Olmert Tours” suddenly became part of the Israeli lexicon, with some Israeli pundits wondering aloud whether Olmert Tours had now opened up a branch in Paris, with double and triple pricing offered on every ticket.
However, on a more serious international note, Mr. Olmert’s travel manipulations of Internal Revenue Service-tax deductible American philanthropic organizations has tremendous legal implications.
Will these groups, under the scrutiny of the IRS, now ask for a rebate of funds forwarded to Mr. Olmert?
Did any of these philanthropic organizations receive gratuities from Mr. Olmert in exchange for the travel arrangements that they made for Mr. Olmert? If so, charges of bribery may be leveled. After all, several of these American groups maintain operations in Israel that involve expedited building permits, which Mr. Olmert could “take care of.”
In other words, the investigation of this Israeli prime minister could now be a matter for Interpol to examine.
This ran in the Phila Bulletin on July 16th, 2008