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Police question Israel's Olmert in bribery probe

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, already on trial for corruption, was questioned by police today on suspicion of accepting bribes in a Jerusalem luxury housing project, a police spokesman said.

world Updated: May 25, 2010 17:32 IST

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, already on trial for corruption, was questioned by police on Tuesday on suspicion of accepting bribes in a Jerusalem luxury housing project, a police spokesman said.

Olmert has vehemently denied wrongdoing. Media have reported that he took hefty bribes while being the Mayor of Israel's Jerusalem municipality between 1993-2003. He served as Prime Minister between 2006-2009.

It was the first time Olmert had been summoned to answer questions at a police station at the behest of detectives.

The questioning took place at the National Fraud Investigations unit at the town of Lod in central Israel, the police spokesman said.

Israeli media speculated that police might order Olmert's arrest after what was expected to be a lengthy day of questioning under caution.

In previous interrogations in other affairs which took place when Olmert was Prime Minister, he retained the privilege of determining where and when he could be questioned. As a private citizen he no longer has that right.

Last month Olmert said in a pre-recorded statement aired on prime-time television that he was innocent and ready to answer police questions over the "Holyland affair".

"I was never offered bribes and I never took bribes from anybody in any matter, in any form, either directly or indirectly," he said.

Olmert said "I am willing to be questioned by the police at any time and at any stage that investigators want to question me". He has described the publication of rumours against him as "an unprecedented attempt at character assassination".

Uri Lupolianski, who succeeded Olmert as Mayor and held the post until 2008, was arrested last month in the affair in which police suspect that building permits were issued in exchange for bribes amounting to millions of dollars.

No charges have been filed against Lupolianski, who was a Deputy Mayor under Olmert. He was later released from custody.

For years, many Israelis have questioned how the Holyland compound's fortress-like circle of towers - still under construction and widely viewed as an eyesore - received planning permission in a city that is mostly low-rise.

Olmert said that the project he had authorised and supported was to be dominated by three hotels to boost Jerusalem's tourist industry and was to have hundreds of apartments for middle-class non-Orthodox residents.

The project that came to be built has no hotels but many luxury apartments.

Police have also arrested and questioned Olmert's former law associate, Uri Messer, in connection with the Holyland probe but he too has been released from custody.

Olmert is already on trial on suspicion that while serving in public office before becoming Prime Minister, he received tens of thousands of dollars from a U.S. businessman and double-billed organisations for foreign travel expenses. He has said he is innocent.