Former prime minister Ehud Olmert with lawyer in court 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A tense atmosphere prevailed at the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday as former prime minister Ehud Olmert underwent a second day of cross-examination in his corruption trial.
The former prime minister said in his testimony before the court that he “might have” transferred funds in cash to his associate Uri Messer. This contradicts testimony that Olmert gave during his earlier police investigation, where he denied transferring cash to Messer.
According to the indictment, Uri Messer, Olmert’s longtime friend and former partner, kept a secret cash fund for Olmert that amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some of the money came from New York businessman Moshe Talansky and some from other donors. At one point, the indictment stated, the fund amounted to $350,000.
Deputy Jerusalem district attorney Uri Korb further questioned Olmert about discrepancies in the various statements he gave during police investigations, and read out Olmert’s reply to a question put to him by police investigators in May 2008 regarding his financial ties with Messer.
In that investigation, Olmert, who at that time was industry, trade and labor minister, denied that such ties existed.
Korb asked Olmert whether he agreed that this answer was incorrect.
Olmert replied that he had answered that way in response to the “deceptive tactics” of the investigators.
“From the start, I felt that I was up against people who didn’t want to accept things as they were,” Olmert answered. “Now I know that I was told by the same investigator something that was the exact opposite of what Messer had told her the day before.”
Olmert further told the court that he did not tell investigators who were the sources of the money given to Messer because he thought that the information might leak.
“The names of two of the major donors I cannot mention even today,” said Olmert, adding that he hoped the court would accede to his request not to invite those donors for testimony.
Korb questioned Olmert about whether he had reported to the state comptroller that he had received the funds. Olmert replied that he had not, because the funds were not private money but for political activities.
“Did you not think it relevant to tell the state comptroller that Messer was holding hundreds of thousands of dollars for you, and that he was volunteering as your campaign manager?” asked Korb.
Olmert answered that it was well-known that Messer was his campaign manager and that it was therefore not necessary to say this to the state comptroller.
“I say you chose to conceal from the investigators that you received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Messer,” said Korb.
Later, Korb questioned Olmert about Messer’s testimony in which Messer told investigators that in 2006 he had given Shula Zaken, Olmert’s former bureau chief, a bag containing $150,000 in cash.
When Korb asked Olmert if he had received the money from Zaken, Olmert replied that Zaken had not told him about the money. “What happened between Shula [Zaken] and Messer only they can answer,” said Olmert.
Korb described Olmert, Zaken and Messer as “a triangle” and asked Olmert about what had happened to the money.
“One of the triangle knows what happened to it,” said Korb. “You never said, not even once, to Zaken, ‘What happened to the
Olmert answered that he had not been in a position to talk
to either Zaken or Messer at that time. “I did things that were a
hundred times more important than asking ‘Where was the $150,000?’ I had
things on my mind that were a hundred times more important and dramatic
at that time,” Olmert answered.
Later, Korb asked Olmert whether he had ever personally been handed cash donations for political activities.
“Once or twice, yes,” Olmert answered, adding that the money was given to Zaken who then passed it to Messer.
Olmert said that “in practice” he could decide what the donations were
used for, because they were not earmarked for any specific organization,
and said part of the funds financed events including a conference at
the national fairgrounds in December 2003 and the public campaign over
the disengagement from Gaza.
Olmert’s cross examination is set to continue until the court recess in August.