(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The judges in the trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his close aide Shula Zaken did not conceal their impatience on Thursday with the choice of witnesses brought before it by the prosecution in the Rishontours affair.
Since the trial began, Deputy Jerusalem District Attorney Uri Korb has summoned to the stand a string of officials of Israeli and Jewish organizations in other countries who invited Olmert to take part in fund-raising events abroad. The state has accused Olmert of charging each organization on whose behalf he spoke the full price of the ticket for himself and those who accompanied him.
Until now, most of the officials who dealt with Olmert’s office testified that they had spoken to his foreign liaison, Rachel Risbi-Raz, and could not tie the allegations to Olmert himself.
On Thursday, Korb went a step further, by summoning a witness who testified that she herself had nothing to do with Olmert’s travel arrangements and had no direct contact with his office. The witness was Yafit Nissan Marom, who worked for Friends of the Soldier’s Welfare Society in the US and, afterwards, in the Soldier’s Welfare Society in Israel.
Asked by Korb about an event in the US in 2005, where Olmert was the main speaker, Nissan Marom said “We handled it in the routine way. I didn’t handle the dialogue with [Olmert’s] office. Someone else did it.” Nissan Marom gave the same answer regarding other events in which Olmert was the main speaker.
During her cross-examination by Olmert’s attorney, Navit Negev, Nissan Marom said again, “No, I didn’t have any contact at all with Olmert.”
At this point, an obviously irritated Judge Yaakov Tsaban said aloud, “I keep asking myself, when will I hear a “yes” answer.”
Turning to Korb, he added, “Tell me one fact that she knows. I have learned one thing from her testimony, the word ‘schmooze.’”
Korb tried to defend himself.
“Our line of questioning is very clear,” he told Tsaban. “The defense’s line is not clear.”
Presiding Judge Moussia Arad was also critical of the prosecution.
“Each time you bring the same witnesses who say exactly the same thing,” she told Korb.
The judges also criticized Korb for asking each witness how he felt
upon learning that his organization had been double-billed and whether
he would have agreed to such an arrangement had he known about it. All
the witnesses answered that they would not have approved of such a
Despite the fact that Nissan Marom was not directly involved in
Olmert’s invitation to speak in 2005, she, perhaps without realizing
it, put the former prime minister in a bad light by praising the
conduct of the chairman of Soldiers’ Welfare Society at the time,
“How do I know that we would never have agreed to be double-billed?”
she said. “Our policy was to save every possible shekel so we could
give it to the soldiers. Our chairman flew coach and waived many of the
privileges that came with his position.”
She also said she had felt that Olmert’s requests were “somewhat exaggerated.”
She said that as far as she could remember, when he was invited to
speak in 2005, he said he would be accompanied by two bodyguards and an
adviser and that all of them must fly first class.
Negev told Nissan Marom she was mistaken. The records showed that
Olmert flew with one bodyguard and that according to the regulations,
the bodyguard was required to fly with him.