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5th investigation for israeli prime minister { April 2008 }

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U.S. businessman testifies over cash to Israeli leader
MAy 27, 2008

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An American businessman connected to the latest corruption probe of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert testified Tuesday in a Jerusalem courtroom about cash donations he made to the Israeli leader.

Morris Talansky's testimony is not part of a formal court proceeding against Olmert, who has not been indicted.

Authorities wanted to question Talansky because they fear he may not come back to Israel once he returns home to Long Island, New York.

Talansky has said publicly he would come back to answer questions and cooperate with investigators.

Police are investigating whether Olmert received large sums of money illegally as mayor of Jerusalem and later as the nation's minister of industry, trade and labor under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Olmert has denied taking a bribe and has vowed to resign if he is indicted.

Olmert also was involved in the Likud party primaries from 1993 through 2006, police said. Olmert took over as prime minister in 2006 after a stroke incapacitated Sharon.

Authorities said Talansky helped fund Olmert's election campaigns.

Talansky has denied bribery was involved and told Israel's Channel 10 he never thought any money he gave Olmert "was in any way illegal or wrong."

"He was not the only one that came to America to ask for money for their election campaign. And so I thought it was legal," Talansky said.

Talansky denied having a financial interest in Israel, saying he owned only an apartment in the country.

It is the fifth investigation into Olmert since he became prime minister two years ago and "the latest in a longer string of probes to dog him during his three decades in politics," according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Olmert has never been convicted of wrongdoing.

He remains under investigation for the purchase of a house in an upscale Jerusalem neighborhood that he bought while mayor, allegedly getting it below market value in return for favors.

Israeli officials also are probing an alleged $10 million business deal involving his former business partner. Olmert is alleged to have taken part in the deal while he was labor minister.

He is also under investigation for allegedly appointing political cronies to positions at Israel's Small Business Authority from 2003 to 2006 while he was labor minister.

A yearlong probe into Olmert's role in the privatization of Israel's second-largest bank wrapped up in November with no charges filed against the prime minister.

Shula Zaken, a key Olmert aide for 30 years, was suspended last year as head of the prime minister's office amid allegations that she appointed her allies to Israel's Tax Authority. Olmert was not a suspect in that case but was questioned about Zaken's role.

Zaken has refused to cooperate in the current investigation into Olmert, and she has been placed under house arrest.

Olmert supporters maintain the investigations are a political move by opponents who want him out of office.

Olmert has had dismal approval ratings since Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, which some analysts say failed to weaken the group either militarily or politically.

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