Olmert cabinet 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
State Attorney Moshe Lador told the Supreme Court on Monday that without testimony from Morris Talansky, the state may not be able to muster a case against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whom it suspects of committing fraud, breach of faith and possibly other crimes.
For this reason, the state could not risk allowing Talansky to return to the US without holding a pre-trial hearing so that his testimony was recorded in case there was a trial, Lador explained.
Lador was responding to appeals by the lawyers representing Olmert and his close aide, Shula Zaken, against the May 9 Jerusalem District Court decision to accept the state's request for a pre-trial hearing even though the state has not yet decided to indict the two suspects.
The court on Monday spent more than three hours hearing the appeal and said it would hand down its decision in the coming days. Unless the appeal is accepted, Talansky's pre-trial hearing is set to take place on Sunday in the Jerusalem District Court.
"We thought," Lador told Supreme Court Deputy President Eliezer Rivlin and Justices Salim Joubran and Edna Arbel, "that if we completed the investigation and it was clear that we couldn't get [Talansky's] cooperation, we would be unable to consider filing an indictment, because without his testimony, it might be impossible to do so. I also fear that it would be perceived as impotency on the part of the law system were it not wise enough to preserve [Talansky's] testimony in the transcripts of the court so that if it were decided to file an indictment, his testimony would be included." Lador also provided more details on the allegations against Olmert. He said the prime minister was suspected of receiving dollars in cash in envelopes from Talansky in Israel and the US.
"The allegations that are currently being investigated focus on the intermingling of the relations that Olmert maintained with Talansky, who is active in Jewish organizations, raises donations, and is active in initiating meetings with Israeli public leaders, especially Olmert, because of their special relationship," Lador told the court. "Parallel to these relations, as a minister in the Israeli government, Olmert also received, according to the allegations, money in cash both in Israel, via the head of his bureau in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and in the US," he said.
"According to the testimony that Talansky will give, Talansky transferred the money upon request, which included the sum required, during Talansky's visits to Israel or in the US, where Talansky met Olmert from time to time, usually briefly, during which he handed the dollars in cash in envelopes to Olmert."
According to Lador, the allegations center on fraud and breach of faith. However, there are other accusations including bribery, tax evasion, false registration of income, and violation of the law prohibiting public servants from receiving gifts.
Lador added that the investigation of Talansky's gifts focuses on the periods between election campaigns. Olmert has declared that the funds Talansky gave him were contributions to his various election campaigns between 1993 and 2003. The State Attorney added that police were investigating why Talansky gave Olmert money in the period between 2003 and 2006. During those years, up to and including his election as prime minister, Olmert did not run in any primary campaign.
The lawyers representing Olmert and Zaken, Eli Zohar, Ro'i Blecher, Nevot Tel Tzur and Micha Fetman, argued that the state had failed to prove there was a substantial danger that Talansky would not testify at the trial of their clients, if there was one, and that there were many ways to guarantee his testimony was heard either here or abroad.
Zohar accused the state of denying Olmert his rights as a suspect precisely because he was prime minister. "We are talking about the investigation of a prime minister and because of that, all the procedures in this affair are being stood on their head. There is no precedent for the state's request. There is no need for it, there is no evidence to support the prosecution's position that there's reason to believe it won't be possible to take Talansky's testimony." He also charged that taking early testimony was "a clear violation of the balance between the right to a fair trial and the public interest," and that the state had failed to explain why the balance should be upset in this case.
Because the suspect involved is the prime minister, Zohar continued, "if Talansky does indeed testify we can repeat 20 times over that it is an early testimony, that there is no indictment, that there is no charge. [Nevertheless,] the day Talansky testifies in court is the day the prime minister's trial will begin. We see the media all around and it is obvious," he said.
"A situation is being created which will leave the prosecution no choice but to put the prime minister on trial. You can't make this kind of hullabaloo and then drop the whole thing."
Another issue that arose during the hearing, which was not directly related to the appeal, was whether or not Olmert's and Zaken's lawyers would receive the investigation material gathered by police far enough in advance of Sunday's scheduled examination and cross-examination of Talansky to prepare for it properly. Lador made it clear they would receive virtually everything. However, he said he intended to withhold material that might give away information to Olmert until after he was questioned by police. Lador said the state had asked Olmert, on Thursday night, for an hour of his time for questioning, but had still not received an answer. Zohar replied that Olmert would set aside time for the questioning, but did not say when that would be.
The key question is whether it will be before or after Talansky's testimony on Sunday.
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