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Police grill Israeli premier for second time over bank sale


Jerusalem : Police questioned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a second time in two days Thursday on suspicion that he favoured a personal friend during the privatisation sale of Israel’s national bank.

The questioning at Olmert’s Jerusalem residence was expected to take several hours, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, adding the premier was suspected of breach of trust.

Olmert, 62, was grilled over the affair for the first time Tuesday – for five hours.

He is suspected of changing the terms of the tender for the sale of Israel’s Bank Leumi in late 2005, making them more favourable for a close associate, Australian businessman Frank Lowy.

Olmert was serving as finance minister at the time.

Lowy eventually did not bid for the bank. Olmert has argued in his defence that he made the terms more favourable for all bidders and that he has other closer friends who took part in the tender as well. His friend also eventually did not bid for the bank.

The police investigation into the matter got underway in January, with the prime minister being the last to be questioned. The results will be pivotal in deciding whether to file an indictment.

Olmert is also facing a criminal probe into allegations that he bought a house in Jerusalem’s upscale German Colony neighbourhood well below its market price when he was mayor of the city.

The deal is suspected to have been a quid pro quo, with Olmert using his influence to help the contractor obtain the necessary permits for renovating the building.