Israeli police accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of fraud on Friday and said an investigation into alleged bribe-taking had been widened to look at whether he made duplicate claims for travel expenses.
"The prime minister was asked to give his account about suspicions of serious fraud and other offences," police and the Justice Ministry said in a joint statement issued after investigators questioned Olmert for the third time.
Police have been investigating allegations Olmert took bribes from American businessman Morris Talansky. Olmert said he did nothing wrong in his dealings with the New York Jewish fundraiser but has promised to step down if indicted.
Police said they were now probing whether Olmert received duplicate funding for trips abroad from different public bodies.
"According to the suspicions, during his tenure as Jerusalem mayor and trade and industry minister, Olmert would seek duplicate funding for his trips abroad from public bodies, including from the state, with each of them requested to fund the same trip," the statement said.
Police claim that his office's travel agency would then send separate receipts to the unsuspecting organizations. In this way, according to the allegations, the agency would fraudulently obtain an excess amount of money for each one of Olmert's trips.
The money obtained was allegedly deposited in a private bank account in Olmert's name, which was managed for him by the agency.
According to suspicions, Olmert used the excess money to finance his family's private trips abroad.
'Misplaced attempt to create drama'
However, Olmert associates later claimed that the latest police announcement was a "misplaced attempt to create drama."
Ehud Olmert and wife Aliza during official trip abroad (Photo: GPO)
"The police know that Talansky's testimony is a lost cause, and therefore they are trying to create a new spin. We are dealing with materials that were handed over to the police in an orderly manner three months ago, and we fail to understand the drama," one associate said.
The sources claimed that Olmert did not use public funds for personal purposes, and added that he did not fund flights for his relatives, but rather, merely transferred air miles to them.
Police: Latest probe tense
Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem for 10 years until 2003. He later served as a cabinet minister before succeeding Ariel Sharon as prime minister in early 2006.
Earlier on Friday police investigators arrived at Olmert's official Jerusalem residence questioned the prime minister under warning for roughly two hours about corruption suspicions, the latest development in a case that could force him out of office.
Law enforcement officials told Ynet that during the questioning a great deal of tension was visible between Olmert and the interrogators. A source close to Olmert said, however, that the questioning session was conducted in a “relaxed and calm” manner.
This was the third time the Israeli leader was questioned in a case centering on money he had allegedly received from Talansky.
Efrat Weiss contributed to the report