JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert moved a significant step closer to going on trial Wednesday when the attorney general said he is considering indicting Olmert in a corruption case involving double billing Jewish groups for trips abroad.
The formal declaration by Attorney General Meni Mazuz would be the next to last step before an indictment is filed. Next, the Justice Ministry said that Olmert would be offered to explain why he thinks he shouldn't be charged. A date for the hearing would have to be worked out.
Olmert already resigned over the several corruption cases. He remains in office until a new premier is chosen after February elections.
The Justice Ministry statement said, "The attorney general informed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ... that he is considering indicting him for various crimes" in the case of double billing of travel expenses. Olmert has also been questioned about political appointments and a real estate deal.
Olmert had just returned home from a trip to the U.S. when the Justice Ministry released its statement. He has denied all wrongdoing in the past, and aides have charged that the corruption investigation is a political witch hunt. All of the cases cover the time before Olmert became prime minister in 2006.
Israel's internal political turmoil has hampered Mideast peace efforts. Olmert's trip to Washington was seen as a farewell visit between two leaders about to leave the world stage — Olmert and President George W. Bush.
Israel TV stations read from what they said was a response by Olmert. "I had no other expectations," said the statement, which Olmert's office did not give to The Associated Press. "This time as well, the states attorney is presenting a one-sided and erroneous picture that will crack and collapse in the future."
Olmert handed in his resignation in September, citing the corruption investigations. Police have questioned him nearly a dozen times in recent months, arriving in police cars at his official residence as cameras roll.
Olmert's Kadima Party picked Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to replace him, but Livni was unable to form a new government in the present parliament, forcing a general election. Voting is set for Feb. 10, and formation of a new government is expected to take several weeks.
Olmert would remain as prime minister until a new premier is confirmed by the parliament, even if he is indicted. Analysts say Olmert could elect to take a leave of absence, leaving Livni as acting prime minister. In public, Olmert has refused to relate to scenarios that include such an indictment.