State censured in Olmert case

Skewed ‘refresher’ document given to key witness in Rishontours trial.

By DAN IZENBERG
June 25, 2010 02:27
State censured in Olmert case

Olmert 298. (photo credit: AP)

 
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The president of Jerusalem District Court, Mossia Arad, blasted the prosecution on Thursday in the Rishontours affair and accused it of preparing a “refresher” document for a key witness which was unfaithful to the text of her original testimony before the police.

“You said the document was meant to refresh her memory, that it included exact quotes from the text [of the testimony] and links to where the quotes were located in the text itself,” Arad told Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel and prosecutor Uri Korb.

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“We do not see this as being the case. What we have here are paraphrases without links to the text. If you wanted to prepare a document because the witness was unwilling to read the entire text, then quote accurately from the text. You are permitted to do so. But why draw up a document like this? How do you come up with such a thing? On the face of it, everything you have said [in defense of the document] does not tally with the actual document.”

When Korb tried to defend himself by saying he had told the court that “most of the document” consisted of direct quotes from the text of the testimony to police, Judge Moshe Sobel corrected him, saying Korb had claimed that “virtually all of it” consisted of direct quotes.

The document was prepared by the state prosecution and given to Hadar Saltzman before she began testifying in court two weeks ago. It was meant to refresh her memory of the testimony she had given police two years earlier, while the investigation of the Rishontours affair was being conducted.

Saltzman was a travel agent at Rishontours and in charge of the Olmert file.

During her first day of testimony on June 10, Saltzman said Olmert’s bureau chief Shula Zaken, who is also on trial for her alleged role in the Rishontours affair, had ordered her to use the surplus funds from Olmert’s trips abroad for the state and various philanthropic and Zionist organizations – which he allegedly double- and triple-billed – to cover the cost of private trips by the Olmert family.



The court’s assessment of the “refresher” document could have a strong negative impact on its reliance on Saltzman’s testimony. Olmert’s lawyers, who learned about the 32-page “refresher” document only on Monday, are arguing that the state prepared it tendentiously and hoped it would influence her testimony in court.

On Wednesday, his lawyers, Eli Zohar, Nevot Tel-Tzur and Navit Negev informed the court that they had filed a complaint with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein against the prosecutors in the Olmert case on suspicion that they had tampered with the witness. They also asked it to suspend Saltzman’s testimony while the investigation was being conducted.

Weinstein, who is barred from involvement in the case because he represented Olmert in the Rishontours affair until his appointment as attorney-general, informed the lawyers on Thursday that the complaint would be handled by Deputy Attorney-General Rachel Gottlieb, who is in charge of criminal affairs in Weinstein’s bureau.

Zohar wrote to Gottlieb telling her that Saltzman’s testimony regarding the document would be of great importance to her investigation.

During Thursday’s hearing, Zohar told the court, “We discovered something that shocked us,” and added that many legal experts with whom he had spoken since learning of the state’s “refresher” document had told him it had acted improperly.

Abarbanel and Korb told the court the prosecution had prepared the document to help refresh Saltzman’s memory after she had refused to read the 500 pages of actual testimony.

“What could we do in such a situation?” said Abarbanel. “We could prepare a document which faithfully reflected the issues which we thought the witness should reread. Admittedly, it is an exceptional thing to do, but not beyond the bounds of reasonability.”

After ordering a brief recess for consultation, the court rejected the defense request to halt Saltzman’s testimony but, at the same time, ordered the state not to prepare any more such “refresher” documents for witnesses about to take the stand.

When the hearing resumed, Olmert’s lawyer, Navit Negev, compared the text of Saltzman’s testimony to the police with the state’s account of what she had had allegedly told them according to the “refresher document,” in an effort to prove that the state’s document was inaccurate and did not faithfully reflect Saltzman’s answers to the police.

One of the crucial questions in the Rishontours affair is who gave Saltzman the order to pay for Olmert’s private trips from the surplus money from the trips he made in his public capacity.

The answer attributed by the state to Saltzman in the “refresher” document was “Shula [Zaken] and Rachel Risby-Raz [who in Olmert’s bureau was in charge of his trips abroad  and is also on trial, separately, in the same affair.] However, Negev read out the much longer, complicated and ambivalent answer that Saltzman gave the police as cited in the text of the interrogation.

For example, at one point, when the police asked her who ordered her to transfer the surplus money into Olmert’s account, she replied, “It wasn’t an order. It was something more general.”

Negev then asked Saltzman, “Is it correct that the prosecution did not refresh your memory of this statement?”

Negev also pointed out that when the prosecutors gave her the “refresher” document to read over, she disagreed with its presentation of her opinion on the question of who gave her the order.

“I didn’t receive orders from anyone,” she wrote the prosecution. “That is the correct answer to the question. It was just something obvious that had to be done.”

Negev also pointed to other segments of the testimony in which Saltzman accused the police of putting words in her mouth or told them, “You are trying to direct what I say. I don’t know why.”

Negev also gave other examples of allegedly obvious inaccuracies in the state’s “refresher” document vis-à-vis the text of the police interrogation.

For example, the document made it appear as though Saltzman had used the words “fictitious accounts” and “fictitious expenses.” Saltzman told Negev she was certain she had never used these terms during her questioning by police.

Negev also said the document made it sound as if Saltzman had referred to Olmert as the accused during her police investigation. Again, Saltzman said she had never described Olmert as such and couldn’t have done so since, at that point, he was still only a suspect.

At one point in the cross-examination, Saltzman broke down in tears. She apparently seemed to feel that she was not doing a good job because she could not remember if, or when, she had made certain statements to the police.

Both Negev and Arad tried to calm her down. Arad told her that she did not have to satisfy either the prosecution or the defense. “You shouldn’t cry,” she added.

Saltzman said she was crying because she felt confused.

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