olmert court 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday denied the charges and many of the facts in the state’s indictment against him regarding the Rishon Tours affair.
He said he had had nothing to do with paying for the airline tickets or charging the organizations on whose behalf he traveled abroad.
Olmert also argued that he had paid for airline tickets for private trips for himself and his family through the frequent-flier miles he had accumulated during 13 years of speaking abroad, between 1993 and 2006. He said he had took 70 flights abroad during that time on state business or to help raise money for Jewish non-profit organizations.
According to the state, on 17 occasions Olmert flew on behalf of more than one organization, sometimes including the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, and charged each organization for all or part of the full fare. In this way, he allegedly made a profit of $92,164, which he used to pay for private family trips.
Olmert’s response to the Rishon Tours charges came much later than the one to the charges against him regarding the Talansky and the Investment Center affairs, because his original defense attorney for Rishon Tours, Yehuda Weinstein, was appointed attorney-general. The court agreed to give Navit Negev, the lawyer appointed to take over the defense, Navit Negev, extra time to prepare the response.
In that response, Negev wrote that “during the relevant period, the defendant held many positions as an elected official. His energy and time was devoted to advancing the state and public affairs for which he was responsible. In the nature of things, and as is customary, various employees in his office handled the administrative matters.
“The defendant Shula Zaken, as bureau chief, was responsible for all administrative affairs. The coordinator of external matters, Rachel (Risby-Raz), handled, among other things, everything related to coordinating and organizing the defendant’s [Olmert] trips abroad. In addition, the relevant accounting branches in the ministry offices and the government travel agency were also involved in this matter.”
Throughout his response, Olmert repeated the mantra that he had no knowledge of what Zaken and Risby-Raz were doing, though he had complete faith in their professionalism.
Regarding many of the articles in the indictment, Negev repeated the mantra, “These are matters that the defendant did not deal with and knew nothing of in real time.”
According to one of the allegations in the indictment, Olmert circumvented regulations declaring that ministers going abroad on government business may only use only travel agencies that had been approved by the government. Rishon Tours had not been approved. Furthermore, a minister could not purchase a ticket before obtaining formal budget approval.
Nevertheless, Olmert, Zaken and Risby-Raz allegedly continued to order
the minister’s tickets through Rishon Tours so that he could continue
to overcharge the state and the non-profit organizations. They
allegedly did not wait for budget approval before ordering the tickets
and, through others, arranged to have two approved travel agencies
serve as fictional go-betweens by asking the state for payment on
Rishon Tours behalf, and then transferring the money to Rishon Tours.
Olmert denied the facts in this allegation but also stressed that one way or the other he had nothing to do with the matter.
“The employees in his office dealt with the arrangements and contacts
involved in his trips,” wrote Negev. “The defendant did not take any
action vis-à-vis the government accountants or any other professional
elements regarding the financing of the flight expenses. In certain
cases, when a specific matter was brought to his attention, the
defendant instructed the people in his bureau to act in accordance with
the rules of the professional echelons of the government with
responsibility and transparency. The defendant was, and still is,
certain that the employees in his bureau acted properly, in good faith
and according to the law.”