(photo credit: AP)
A key obstacle to an indictment of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may have been removed on Sunday, when the Justice Ministry informed Moshe Talansky of New York - through his Israeli lawyers Jacques Chen and Yehoshua Resnick - that he will receive partial immunity in the US for any testimony he offers in an Israeli court.
Until now, the key witness in the "cash envelopes" case has avoided offering any further testimony out of concern that he could incriminate himself on tax-related offenses in America. But now, seven months after Talansky's last court appearance, the Justice Ministry demanded Sunday that Chen and Resnick set a date for the US fundraiser's next court appearance.
Talansky's attorneys had requested that the Israeli prosecutors try to reach a deal with their American counterparts so that their client could testify without worrying about legal repercussions in the US.
According to the Justice Ministry, their US counterpart sent a letter to the State Prosecution approximately two weeks ago in which they said that the US attorney-general is willing to offer Moshe Talansky a deal which will ensure that a future testimony by him in an Israeli court cannot be used against him as direct evidence.
The Justice Department did retain the option of using Talansky's testimony "to obtain leads which can be used by the DOJ in any investigation, to cross-examine Mr. Talansky should he testify in a US investigation or prosecution, and as substantive to rebut contrary evidence presented or factual assertion made by Mr. Talansky or his counsel at any stage of a criminal investigation or prosecution."
Some four months ago, police said that they had a sufficient amount of evidence for the state prosecution to file an indictment against Olmert in the case. The indictment could include counts of bribe-taking, money-laundering, fraud and breach of public trust.
The prosecution decided to get early testimony from Talansky in the Jerusalem District Court, out of fear that the New York financier would decide to leave Israel before the investigation had run its course.
The prime minister's lawyers submitted an appeal against the decision, but in May 2008 Talansky gave the first part of his testimony, detailing several instances when he transferred large amounts of money in cash to Olmert during visits to the US.
The Justice Ministry said that Talansky had committed in court to return to Israel to complete his testimony, and that they viewed him as obligated to do do "without any connection" to the statement issued by the American authorities. It was in light of that fact that the Justice Ministry asked that they be updated "as soon as possible" when Talansky "plans to arrive in Israel and fulfill his obligation."
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