The prosecution presented a document to the Jerusalem District Court on Monday it claims proves that former prime minister Ehud Olmert had approved the full billing of two different organizations that had invited him to speak on their behalf in New York at the same time.
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However, Micha Fetman, attorney defending Olmert’s close aide, Shula Zaken, told reporters afterwards that what the document actually proved was that Olmert had not charged other organizations which wanted him to speak for them but could not afford the cost.
The document was presented during the first day of testimony by Rachel Risby-Raz, the key witness in the charges against Olmert and Zaken in what as known as the Rishontours Affair.
Olmert and Zaken are accused of charging all or most of the expenses involved in Olmert’s trips abroad to raise money for philanthropic or pro-Israel organizations, to each of the groups involved, without informing the organizations that each was paying for everything. Groups for whom he appeared were also allegedly charged expenses even when Olmert had made the trip abroad on state business and thus had his expenses covered.
Risby-Raz, who headed Olmert’s foreign liaison office while he was mayor of Jerusalem, minister of industry, trade and labor, and prime minister, has also been indicted for her role in this affair, but is being tried separately.
Risby-Raz explained that full expenses for the trip automatically included the cost of the airfare, the hotel, and the car and driver.
The document produced by the prosecution showed the schedule for June 8, 2005, when Olmert flew to New York to speak on behalf of the Israel Policy Forum and Friends of the IDF. He also appeared during the day before a group belonging to Bnei Akiva, the religious-Zionist youth group.
The schedule was typed up by Risby-Raz. On the margins of the page, she added details of how much each organization was supposed to pay for the trip.
According to her notes to Olmert, the Israel Policy Forum was to pay 100 percent of the cost of a round-trip, first-class ticket. Although the note did not state this explicitly, the costs most likely included the hotel, car and driver. Earlier, she had testified that this is what the expenses automatically entailed.
At the same time, the Friends of the IDF were charged for a first-class ticket, the costs of a first-class ticket for a bodyguard and half the hotel cost. Risby Raz added that “they [FIDF] claim they usually pay first-class ticket for the minister, economy class for the bodyguard (plus hotel).”
Risby-Raz had also set aside time for a meeting with Bnei Akiva. In the margin, she wrote, “I don't think they have money.” Olmert added a comment, “Don't take anything from them.”
Another organization was not as lucky. In her note in the margin for that group, Risby-Raz wrote, “They have only $250 to give.” Olmert replied, “Negative. We don't accept tips.”
At the bottom, Olmert wrote “I approve” with his initials, and drew a circle around the words.
It was not certain when Monday’s hearing began that Risby-Raz would be allowed to testify. The state had submitted the request only two weeks earlier, during the summer recess. Her lawyer, Asher Ohayon, asked the court to prohibit his client from testifying while her own trial was going on. He feared she might say things that would be used against her in her trial.
Olmert’s lawyer, Navit Negev, and Fetman, who represents Zaken, were also opposed. But the court rejected their arguments.
While testifying, Risby-Raz told the court that there were times when Olmert and Zaken reduced the costs to a certain organization or even waived them, as in the case of Bnei Akiva.
According to Fetman, the sheets that Risby-Raz prepared, like the one she prepared for the New York trip, and submitted to Zaken and Olmert, were prepared so that they could decide where to cut costs for some organizations.
Risby-Raz said that from the beginning, she had always understood that all organizations that invited her boss to speak abroad, paid the full cost of the fare, no matter how many organizations invited him for the same trip. She added that she did not have to ask Olmert whether she should charge more than one organization for the trip because she understood it to be the policy at all times.
Olmert’s intervention, therefore, was only necessary when he cut the
cost for one or another organization.
The state’s representative, attorney Uri Korb, asked Risby-Raz about
another trip, on November 29-30, 2004, when Olmert flew to New York and
Washington for ministry business and to speak on behalf of the
American-Israel Friendship League.
This trip was paid for directly by the ministry. Rishontours was not
involved in this transaction at all. Yet Risby-Raz instructed the
American-Israel Friendship League to pay the money it owed, $9,633, to
Asked why she had involved Rishontours in a transaction it had nothing
to do with, she replied that she had been told by the woman she replaced
at the Jerusalem Municipality, that Rishontours was the address for
everything having to do with Olmert’s trips.