Former prime minister Ehud Olmert's travel coordinator and Diaspora affairs adviser Rachel Rizby-Raz goes before a judge today as her trial over her role in the Rishon Tours affair gets underway.
Australian-Israeli Rizby-Raz is charged with fraud, obtaining something by deceit, breach of trust, and falsification of corporate documents in connection with the double-billing case.
Olmert has been accused of illegally double- and in some cases triple- billing charities and government ministries for the same flights, sending them false receipts for travel expenses, and using the excess to pay for personal family travel for his wife and children. The alleged offenses took place between 2002-2006, when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and served as a minister in Ariel Sharon's Likud government.
Among the organizations that were billed were: Akim - the Association for the Rehabilitation of the Mentally Handicapped, Israel Bonds, Yad Vashem, the Wiesenthal Center, the March of Life, the World Jewish Congress and others. It is anticipated that Rizby-Raz's trial will shed more light on the details of the affair.
State prosecutors will seek to prove that Rizby-Raz played a role in double-billing and misleading the organizations which funded Olmert's travels at the instruction of Olmert and his office manager, Shula Zaken.
The indictment against Rizby-Raz claims she helped fraudulently raise $92,000 from the state and various public organizations that sent Olmert abroad, funds that were kept in a special account in Olmert's name in the travel agency Rishon Tours. The charges also said that Rizby-Raz inflated the actual travel costs and in some cases added fictional travel legs to Olmert's itinerary.
Rizby-Raz was initially questioned by the state prosecutor as a witness in the case, but after continued investigations, she was also indicted for her role in the affair.
Olmert's own trial is scheduled to resume in February after the defense requested time to review the charges against him in four separate investigations. Throughout the ordeal Olmert has maintained his innocence.