A senior justice official said Wednesday that "if a criminal investigation is launched against (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert, on suspicion of wrongdoing, he should to suspend himself from his post."
Pursuant to a report of an imminent police indictment against the prime minister, more than one justice source expressed this opinion, often disagreeing on the legal obligation of such a suspension, but agreeing on the public obligation.
Tuesday, Israel's Channel 10 reported that that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz plans to instruct Israel Police to launch an investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over three affairs he is allegedly connected to.
The investigation is expected to begin upon the prime minister's return from his trip to China.
The justice source told Ynet that, both from a public and legal perspective, Olmert has no choice but to suspend himself from duty. This is in accordance with the philosophy that the head of a government authority related to law enforcement, such as Justice Minister or Internal Security Minister, cannot serve while being investigated.
As such, "(Chaim) Ramon and (Avigdor) Lieberman's situation applies to the prime minister also. He stands at the top of the executive and administrative pyramids."
It should be recalled that Lieberman was unable to serve as Internal Security Minister because of the investigation against him. Likewise, Ramon suspended himself from the position of Justice Minister upon his indictment.
The PM's obligation to the public also serves as a deciding factor, the source said: "Leaders need to constitute a personal example and a symbol."
As such, Olmert needs to temporarily suspend himself, similarly to Moshe Katsav and even the much lesser charges against former prime minister the late Yitzhak Rabin, whose wife's was involved in a foreign coin scandal, the source emphasized.
According to the source, "someone who has such a black cloud hanging over him, can't led a country, since he will be busy defending his name and distracted, instead of ruling a country and its immediate needs."
Another justice source told Ynet that Israel is faced with a difficult situation: Although there is a precedent for prime ministers not to suspend themselves from office, not doing so "could cause a widespread judicial crisis."
The three affairs
According to the report, the decision to open a criminal investigation was made during the investigation of alleged criminal conduct in the selling of Bank Leumi's majority shares.
Reports said that the prime minister, along with additional parties, allegedly committed criminal bribery offenses during the sale of the bank's shares in 2005. The allegations claim that Olmert, who was Minister of Finance at the time, apparently broke the law for two of his friends – Daniel Abrams and Frank Louie – with whom he conducted, directly and indirectly, a relationship which allegedly involved bribe.
State Comptroller Justice Micha Lindenstrauss investigated the case and transferred his findings to Mazuz.
The second affair involves the prime minister's alleged illegal political appointments in the Israel Small and Medium Enterprises Authority during his tenure as minister of industry, commerce, and labor.
The other allegations pertain to Olmert’s association with his confidante Attorney Uri Messer, who was a partner in the prime minister’s law firm until 1988.
Messer was one of the key figures in the affair involving Olmert’s purchase of a luxury apartment on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem. Messer allegedly conducted the business negotiations on Olmert’s behalf.
Reports said Olmert received a USD 320,000 discount on the apartment in exchange for expediting construction permits.
The Justice Ministry responded to the Channel 10 report by saying that "The ministry will not respond to any publication, news item, or speculation on this matter."
"When the decision making process on these sensitive and complicated matters, which is still going on, is over, a clear announcement will be made to the public," said the ministry's announcement.