Just when it seemed as though the mantle of sleaze clinging to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could not get any thicker, it did.
According to a report in the Israeli media (Hebrew link), the prime minister of Israel is the target of yet another criminal investigation — this time in the United States. The FBI is looking into what appears to be concrete evidence of Olmert’s complicity in money laundering and illegal solicitation of financial contributions.
For four months, Olmert has been under the latest of a series of criminal investigations in Israel. This time, he is suspected of accepting cash-filled envelopes amounting to at least $150,000 from Long Island Jewish businessman Morris (Moshe) Talansky over a period of 15 years, when he was alternately minister of trade and industry and mayor of Jerusalem. Police investigators have hinted strongly that Talansky transferred several hundred thousand dollars more to Olmert, via the prime minister’s former law partner.
Olmert claimed that the envelopes of cash were reimbursement for legitimate expenses, while the state claimed that the money was either acquired under false pretences (“campaign contributions”), or that Talansky was bribing Olmert for his business connections. The prime minister has denied receiving money from Talansky via Uri Messer, his former law partner.
The FBI entered the picture shortly after Talansky’s first deposition in Jerusalem in May. Israeli investigators flew to New York to meet with federal officers, where they apparently turned over a substantial paper trail. The federal probe led to the New York-based New Jerusalem Fund, which was managed by Talansky — but headed by Olmert.
According to Israeli journalist Yoav Yitzhak the fund, which was ostensibly set up to raise money for Jerusalem renewal and NGO projects, was in fact a front for money laundering. So far, the investigators are talking about approximately $500,000 in unaccounted for funds.
FBI investigators have already discovered that Olmert played an active role in deciding how contributions made to the fund should be used. NFC has been informed that investigators have uncovered a disparity between the amounts raised by New Jerusalem in the United States and the amounts the fund’s managers claimed were transferred to the Jerusalem branch and other bodies. In other words, the FBI suspects that funds were either stolen or laundered.