Olmert at trial.
(photo credit: Dudi Vaknin)
On his eighth day of testimony before the Jerusalem District Court, former prime minister Ehud Olmert denied, on Monday, that he had asked his one-time attorney and former head of the "Jerusalem United for Olmert" campaign head Uri Messer to solicit funds from US businessman Moshe Talansky in order to close a NIS 2 million debt that the campaign had accumulated.
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Messer had allegedly sought Olmert's aid in helping to pay back the debt, and the former prime minister had pointed him to Talansky, who later deposited nearly $300,000 in Messer's account between 1998-1999.
According to the indictment, the funds were deposited initially as a guarantee for the account, but later, in 2002, served to cover the organizations' debt.
When questioned by his defense attorney Navot Tel Zur, Olmert claimed that he did not send Messer to Talansky after the mayoral elections for the sake of paying off the bank debt. Olmert said that he had sent Messer to Talansky a number of months prior to the elections, and before a debt had surfaced, in order to guarantee the campaign's bank loans.
Olmert said that he placed all responsibility for collecting funds on
Messer. He insisted that Messer had offered to assume the position of
campaign chair before the 1998 elections, and that Olmert had agreed. Therefore, Messer had become responsible for registering funds,
receipts, reporting to the state comptroller, tracking payments and
debts, and all other financial issues the campaign faced.
"It was crystal clear that I was free from dealing with the financial matters," said Olmert.
In March Messer testified on behalf of the prosecution, but raised the
State Attorney's ire when instead of cooperating with them he testified on
Olmert's behalf. The prosecution lawyers at the time even asked that
Messer be ruled a hostile witness.
Earlier Olmert testified that some of the money that Talansky trasferred
to him in the late 90's was used to pay for Olmert's legal fees when he
was on trial on charges of issuing fake receipts, charges of which he was
later acquitted. Olmert said that in the course of the trial he rang
up over a million shekels in legal fees and that Talansky and other
foreign donors helped him pay them off.
“Most of the fundraising was done in the US. The money was transferred
through an American law firm at the donor’s request,” said Olmert. “The
arrangement was fine with me.”