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Olmert could face graft charges

JERUSALEM, September 8 – Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting beleaguered Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on corruption charges in two different cases, but the premier’s lawyers dismissed the move as irrelevant.

The decision is unlikely to affect the political future of the 62-year-old premier who has denied any wrongdoing but announced in July he would step down following a public uproar over the array of suspicions against him.

Police said in a statement they had gathered enough evidence to indict Olmert on charges of taking bribes and breaching public trust over suspicions he had unlawfully accepted cash-stuffed envelopes from a US businessman.

Police also recommended that Olmert be indicted over suspicions he had billed the same overseas trips several times over, allegedly using the ill-gotten gains to pay for private trips for himself and his family.

The two allegations cover the 13 years before he took office, when he served as mayor of Jerusalem and as trade and industry minister.

The police advice will be submitted to state prosecutors who will review the evidence and make their own recommendation.

While police and state prosecutors can recommend a prosecution, the formal decision to indict a prime minister lies with Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, who is expected to make a decision within the coming weeks.

Olmert’s attorneys said in response that the police recommendation has no meaning.

"The only person authorised by the law to decide whether to indict a prime minister is the attorney general. He has the authority and he bears the responsibility over the issue," his lawyers said in a statement.

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"The police recommendations are meaningless. It would have been appropriate for the police to completely avoid expressing its views on issues that are not under its jurisdiction and its authority."

Olmert has been dogged by multiple corruption investigations for months and on July 30 announced he would step down after his centrist Kadima party selects a new leader in an election among party members on September 17.

The succession for the ruling party’s leadership is being battled out by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz.

The winner will have to win a vote of confidence in parliament for a new governing coalition; otherwise the country will go to early parliamentary elections from which the right-wing opposition Likud is expected to emerge the largest party.

Olmert also weathered a chorus of calls for his resignation after a commission of inquiry found him responsible for severe failings during the 2006 war in Lebanon against the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

He has been questioned several times in recent months over suspicions he accepted more than 150,000 dollars in envelopes from US financier Morris Talansky to finance election campaigns and a lavish lifestyle.

Police said they would need to put further questions to Olmert before deciding whether to recommend a third indictment over suspicions of cronyism in political appointments he made as minister in 2005 for assisting a private company represented by a lawyer who was also his close associate.

The embattled premier has faced a total of six police investigations in recent years but police have decided to close two of them.

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