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Olmert: Prime minister is not above or below law

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that he has decided not to contend in the Kadima primary and would resign as soon as the new party leader was chosen, due to the criminal investigation that have embroiled him in recent months.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered a statement to the public from his official residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening.

The surprise announcement did not detail what subject Olmert would address. Political sources said they believed Olmert would announce a decision not to run in an upcoming leadership contest in his Kadima party, scheduled for September 17. This decision could in effect mean an end to Olmert’s political career.

Olmert began the address by saying that despite having been beset by investigations during his tenure, he has improved the situation in Israel and continues to believe that peace is the most important track for the country.

The prime minister went on to say that as long as he was in power, he would work toward this goal of peace.

“I am proud to be the prime minister of a country that investigates its prime ministers,” he said. “The prime minister is not above the law, but he is in no way below it.”

The prime minister has been under official criminal investigation in recent months over allegations of corruption in his former capacities as Jerusalem mayor and trade minister.

The two most prominent investigations involve suspicions that Olmert took bribes from American businessman Morris Talansky, and charges he submitted duplicate claims for travel expenses which he allegedly used to fund family trips abroad. He has denied wrongdoing, but said he would resign if indicted.

Olmert’s announcement comes a day after Kadima said it had scheduled its leadership vote, an election that could lead to Olmert’s ouster. Olmert has not said publicly whether he intends to run.

The prime minister’s advisers in recent days have split into two groups: those who expect him to continue in his position and resign only if indicted, and those who have been urging him not to run in the primary elections and conclude his term with an air of respect.

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