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Israeli police question Olmert on campaign donations

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Associated Press / May 3, 2008

JERUSALEM - Police questioned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday in an investigation of campaign donations by a US citizen. It was the fifth high-profile inquiry involving the Israeli leader, whose popularity has suffered because of the repeated charges of corruption.

Olmert's office predicted he would weather the latest storm, but it threatened to further weaken his hold on power and potentially derail peace talks with Palestinians.

With a court-imposed gag order limiting information about the investigation, it is not clear what allegations police are looking into, but Israeli law restricts how much politicians can get from donors. Omri Sharon, son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, is in jail for receiving donations that far exceeded the ceiling.

Olmert was questioned under caution, indicating police believed their interrogation could result in an indictment. If Olmert is indicted, he would have to resign. A decision on formal charges was at least months away.

Investigators arrived at Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem at midmorning and questioned him for 90 minutes, police said. Police would not disclose further information, citing the gag order.

Olmert's office said the questions dealt with donations raised by an American citizen between 1999 and 2002, before Olmert became prime minister. The money was meant to finance elections for the mayorship of Jerusalem and primaries in Olmert's former political party, Likud, the office said.

Olmert, a former Jerusalem mayor, was elected prime minister two years ago and heads another party, Kadima.

"The prime minister answered all of the investigators' questions on the subject, and will continue to cooperate with all legal authorities to the extent he is required to do so," the statement from Olmert's office said.

Olmert is a suspect in several corruption affairs involving real estate deals and questionable political appointments. He has been questioned several times by police, but has never been charged.

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