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Israeli PM faces criminal probe

  • Story Highlights
  • Police told to probe property purchase by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
  • Probe follows claims Olmert received price cut for helping with building permits
  • Olmert's office says purchase was honest: "This investigation is superfluous"
  • PM also faces inquiries for alleged activities in previous offices he held
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's attorney general has ordered police to carry out a criminal investigation into the purchase of a Jerusalem home by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a statement by the Justice Ministry said.

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The new probe is an addition to several other cases Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is facing.

The ministry said the investigation is to clarify suspicions of criminal action that stemmed from a report by the state comptroller on Olmert's deal to purchase the house. That report came after a complaint was filed saying Olmert received a significant reduction in the price in return for expediting building permits.

Olmert's office issued a statement calling the probe "superfluous" and reasserting that the prime minister paid a price within market expectation.

But the statement said Olmert, whose poll numbers have been in the single digits, will cooperate with the probe announced by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Monday.

The allegations are considered, at the very least, a distraction for Olmert, who is leading Israeli efforts to bolster the Palestinian Authority while attempting to end a Palestinian rocket barrage from Gaza, which is under control of Hamas.

Olmert also faces a U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference later this year as the United States seeks to find a way to move forward on a two-state solution for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The statement from Olmert's office said: "We are convinced in the honest process in which the apartment was purchased. We are sorry that the investigation will continue; this investigation is superfluous.

"The purchase of the apartment did not exceed the conditions of the market and the accepted estimate of its value; this answer has been given already to the state controller's office and anyone can see it if he so wishes.

"The prime minister will, however, cooperate fully with the investigation in order to end the affair as soon as possible.

"We are certain that the findings of the inquiry will clearly show that the purchase of the house by the Olmert family was done honestly at the rightful price."

The new probe is an addition to several other cases the prime minister is facing. The other cases involve allegations that Olmert, while he was minister of industry, trade and labor, gave a company owned by his friend preferential treatment, and made appointments at the Small Business Authority on a political basis.

Both the additional cases are based on investigations by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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