JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel's attorney general on Sunday ordered a police investigation into political appointments made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he was trade minister, dealing a fresh blow to the beleaguered politician who already faces two police probes.
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz instructed police to launch a criminal probe over suspicions pertaining to "political appointments and assisting political cronies in different public bodies during his (Olmert's) office as trade and industry minister" in 2005, a justice ministry statement said.
The investigation will also look into suspicions that Olmert abused his authority when assisting a private company represented by a lawyer who was also his close associate, the ministry said.
Olmert, who is not required to step down over the probes, said in reaction to Mazuz's announcement that the new investigation, as well as the previous two, was "unnecessary.
"It appears obvious to us that the investigations are all bound to be closed without any results," his office said.
"Nevertheless, this pattern will not stop the prime minister from being personally involved and performing his duties in all the fields he is responsible for."
This is the third criminal investigation Olmert now faces after Mazuz last month ordered a probe into Olmert's 2004 purchase of a Jerusalem home.
He is suspected of having received an effective bribe when he bought the property for around 300,000 dollars below the market price -- a charge he denies.
Last week police investigators questioned the premier over alleged abuse of influence in the privatisation process of Bank Leumi, Israel's second largest, which he supervised in 2005.
Police suspect that Olmert, who was then acting finance minister in the government of prime minister Ariel Sharon, tried to steer the sale of Bank Leumi towards his friend, Australian property baron Frank Lowey.
The bank was eventually sold to another company unconnected to Lowey.
None of several corruption inquiries focused on Olmert since he took office in May 2006 has resulted in any charges being brought against the premier.
Olmert has also been the sole senior leader to survive calls for his resignation after a government commission investigating the 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah listed widespread failures, in interim findings it released in April.
However, Olmert's finance minister Avraham Hirshson was forced to quit this summer over a graft investigation, and a close aide of 30 years' standing was also forced to resign over a probe into alleged corruption in the tax authority.
Olmert is the fourth sitting prime minister to be subjected to a criminal investigation, none of whom was ever charged. The others were his immediate predecessors -- Sharon, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.
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