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Israel police grill former PM over property scandal

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was on Tuesday being questioned by police over his alleged involvement in a huge property scandal, media reports said.

world Updated: May 25, 2010 17:30 IST

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was on Tuesday being questioned by police over his alleged involvement in a huge property scandal, media reports said.

Olmert, who is already on trial on three unrelated counts of fraud and bribery, was being questioned under caution at a police station in Lod near Tel Aviv.

It was the first time the former premier was being questioned at a police station, previous interrogations had taken place at his home or at a hotel, the reports said.

The investigation was believed to centre on his alleged role in a property scandal involving bribes from developers building - a grandiose residential project in Jerusalem called the Holyland complex.

A spokesman for Israel police was not able to confirm or deny the reports.

Last month, prosecutors named Olmert as a key suspect in the so-called Holyland affair in which he is suspected of having taken bribes totalling some 3.5 million shekels (almost one million dollars or 743,000 euros at the current exchange rate).

The bribes were allegedly handed over during construction of the massive complex in the 1990s, when Olmert was serving as mayor of Jerusalem then as minister of trade and industry.

The affair, which has riveted the nation, is the latest in a series of graft accusations against Olmert.

In December, Olmert pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption linked to three other cases. He resigned under pressure in September 2008 after police recommended he be indicted.

He is accused of unlawfully accepting gifts of cash-stuffed envelopes from Jewish-American businessman Morris Talanski and of multiple-billing for foreign trips.

Olmert has also been charged with cronyism in relation to an investment centre which he oversaw when he was trade and industry minister between 2003 and 2006. That case is expected to drag on for several months, if not years. If found guilty, Olmert could face a prison term, although it is unclear about the duration of the term.

All the charges relate to a period before Olmert became premier in 2006.

He served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 before being appointed to the trade and industry portfolio in the government of the then premier Ariel Sharon.