Olmert at trial.
(photo credit: Dudi Vaknin)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said in court on Thursday that he didn’t know what happened to $150,000 that his former lawyer, Uri Messer, said he transferred to Olmert’s assistant Shula Zaken.
Olmert was asked about the missing funds during his 13th day on the witness stand at the Jerusalem District Court, where he is standing trial on a string of corruption charges. Olmert was questioned by Zaken’s defense lawyer to try to elucidate to the court the involvement in the affair of Zaken, who is also facing charges.
In his testimony before the court in May, Messer claimed that in 2006, shortly after Olmert took up the post of prime minister, he had decided to get rid of the remainder of the money he was keeping in trusteeship for Olmert, and handed it over in cash to Zaken. Olmert said he did not know what happened to the money, and that Zaken had made no note of the transfer.
Zaken herself denied ever receiving money from Messer.
The judges asked Olmert about the fate of the missing money – to which Olmert answered that it was a question he had wondered about but never had the chance to pursue as he was busy with other things at the time.
“It is a matter that I am curious about to this day,” said Olmert, but
explained that he couldn’t follow up on it because he had been unable to
talk with either Messer or Zaken since the beginning of the
Olmert said of Zaken that she was a strong, opinionated woman whose loyalty he never had reason to doubt.
Olmert denied ever asking Zaken to meet with American businessman Moshe
Talansky in order to receive money, and repeated his blanket denial from
earlier testimony that he ever received illicit funds from Talansky.
In later testimony, Olmert revised his original statement to the police
that he was unaware Zaken had listened in to his phone conversations.
Olmert said his mental state at the time was such that he was in a
“resistant” state of mind and had said things that were untrue.
Olmert said he was in fact aware that Zaken would listen in on his phone
conversations, and that it was a common practice at the office.
Zaken was charged in 2009 for having illegally eavesdropped on Olmert’s phone conversations for her own benefit.
Up until now, Olmert has been giving his primary testimony, guided by
his defense team; but starting Monday, he will begin the
cross-examination stage of his trial, during which state attorney Uri
Korb is expected to grill him extensively over his alleged offenses.
The former prime minister has been charged for involvement in three main
corruption affairs. In the first case, dubbed the Rishon Tours affair,
Olmert is accused of double-billing philanthropic organizations for his
travel expenses and using the excess funds to sponsor flight tickets for
his family and upgrades for himself.
Olmert is also accused of having received hundreds of thousands of
dollars, in cash, from US businessman Moshe Talansky in what has been
dubbed “the cash envelopes affair.” According to the indictment,
Talansky gave Olmert the money as a personal loan, and Olmert allegedly
stashed it away without reporting it to the tax authority.
Olmert also faces allegations of wrongdoing in the running of the
Ministry of Trade Industry and Labor’s Investment Center. He stands
accused by the State Attorney’s Office of favoring business clients of
his friend and former partner Uri Messer, who applied to the Investment
Center for state grants and other benefits.