Olmert at trial.
(photo credit: Dudi Vaknin)
On his eighth day of testimony before the Jerusalem District Court, former prime minister Ehud Olmert denied on Monday that he asked his one-time attorney and former campaign head, Uri Messer, to solicit funds from US businessman Moshe Talansky to pay a NIS 2 million debt the campaign accumulated.
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Messer had allegedly sought Olmert’s aid in helping to pay the debt, and the former prime minister subsequently pointed him to Talansky, who later deposited nearly $300,000 in Messer’s account in 1998-1999.
According to the indictment, the funds were deposited initially as a guarantee for the account – but later, in 2002, served to cover the organization’s debt.
When questioned by his defense attorney, Navot Tel Zur, Olmert claimed that he did not send Messer to Talansky after the mayoral election for the sake of paying off the bank debt.
Olmert said that he sent Messer to Talansky a number of months before the election – and before a debt had surfaced – to guarantee the campaign’s bank loans.
Olmert said he placed all responsibility for collecting funds on Messer. He insisted that Messer had offered to assume the position of campaign chairman before the 1998 election, and that Olmert had agreed – therefore Messer became responsible for registering funds, receipts and reporting to the state comptroller to track payments and debts, and all other financial issues the campaign may face.
“It was crystal clear that I was free from dealing with the financial matters,” Olmert said.
In March, Messer testified on behalf of the prosecution, but raised the state attorney’s ire when instead of cooperating with them he testified on Olmert’s behalf. The prosecution lawyers at the time even asked that Messer be ruled a hostile witness.
Earlier, Olmert testified that some of the money that Talansky transferred to him in the late ’90s was used to pay for Olmert’s legal fees when he was on trial on charges of issuing fake receipts, which he was acquitted of.
Olmert said that in the course of the trial he had wrung up over a million shekels in legal fees and that Talansky and other foreign donors helped him pay them off.
“Most of the fundraising was done in the US,” said Olmert.
“The money was transferred through an American law firm, at the donor’s request. The arrangement was fine with me.”