Israeli PM Olmert 'not a thief': Aide

AKIM's chairman Reuven Samuel, said that if Olmert were convicted, "I will tell Mr. Olmert to look in the mirror and see what kind of person he sees."

Israeli PM Olmert 'not a thief': Aide

A long-time aide who managed Ehud Olmert's travel, defended the Israeli prime minister on Saturday against a new accusation that he committed fraud by submitting duplicate expense claims.

"The prime minister is not a thief and not a cheat," Rachel Risby-Raz said in a written statement a day after Olmert was quizzed by police about his travel claims -- his third interrogation since being accused of corruption in May.

Olmert has not commented on the widening of the probe to include alleged fraud.

Previously he admitted taking cash from an American financier. He denied wrongdoing, describing it as campaign donations, but said he would resign if indicted.

Risby-Raz, who said she had also been questioned but was not a suspect, also said: "He did not put a shekel in his own pocket and did not use public funds for his family."

It was a rare, outspoken vote of confidence for Olmert, who has been forced to agree to a leadership election within his centrist Kadima party in September in order to appease allies in Kadima and in his main coalition partner, the Labour party.

Olmert's attorney Navot Tel-Zur denied his client used public money to cover his family's travel expenses and said Olmert rejected the allegations "with both hands."

Israeli media said AKIM Israel, a charity that supports the mentally disabled and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum were among the organisations Olmert allegedly defrauded.

AKIM's chairman Reuven Samuel, said that if Olmert were convicted, "I will tell Mr. Olmert to look in the mirror and see what kind of person he sees."

On Friday, police said they suspected Olmert's travel agent sent invoices to various public bodies to cover trips by Olmert when he was mayor of Jerusalem and then trade minister. The result was a duplication of incoming funds, with the surplus being placed in an account used to fund Olmert's private travel.

The initial corruption inquiry, which judicial sources say involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash payments over a decade from the early 1990s, broke two months ago when detectives moved at short notice to question Olmert on May 2.

In testimony on May 27, American Jewish fundraiser Morris Talansky told a Jerusalem that he had passed $150,000 to Olmert over a 15-year period, including loans that were never repaid. Olmert said the money was used legally for election campaigns.

Olmert's lawyers are due to cross-examine Talansky this coming week in Jerusalem.

Reuters

Last Mod: 13 Temmuz 2008, 12:09
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