Olmert continues to deny part in Rishon Tours affair

Former prime minister says prosecutions presentation of the case is "tainted by dishonesty"; repeats denial of involvement in booking flights.

By RON FRIEDMAN
June 13, 2011 11:48
4 minute read.
Ehud Olmert arrives at J'lem court for trial

Olmert arriving at trial 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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On Monday, the fifth day of former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s testimony to the Jerusalem District Court, he continued to deny all involvement in the Rishon Tours double-billing affair.

Olmert was asked about several documents that he had signed off on relating to his travel plans, among them on correspondence with the accountant-general of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry.

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In one instance, Olmert told his travel planner Rachel Rizby Raz to make sure that the office reported on his travel plans ahead of the trip and not after it. In another he testified on his desire to have the various ministry departments cooperate better to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.

Although he said he didn’t remember any of the details, Olmert addressed the letters’ contents, conjecturing on the reasoning behind what was written in his handwriting.

“I might have known that we turned to Rishon Tours, but I don’t remember it ever being a problem. I also don’t remember the accountant-general ever indicating that there was a problem with the way we booked tickets with the travel agency,” Olmert said.

When presented with the prosecution’s argument that the office staff worked with Rishon Tours despite a prohibition to do so, since the company had not won the tender to provide him with travel services, Olmert said he didn’t know about the prohibition or even about the tender.



“This was trivial in my eyes; as long as the government approved my flights, I didn’t concern myself with these details,” Olmert said.

“I never gave instructions about continuing to work with Rishon Tours,” he stressed.

When asked whether the accountant-general approved his flights, Olmert testified that he never asked for approval.

“I never, in all my travels, had to ask permission for travels from the accountant-general so he could get approval for government budgeting. I never spoke to him. It is unheard of that a minister would ask the accountant-general for such a thing,” Olmert said. “This is something that the prosecution made up in order to found their baseless claims.”

Olmert spoke about tense relations between him and the accountant-general, saying he wasn’t sure that he could work with him, but rejecting the conjecture that the poor relations were over the travel expenses.

Olmert’s lawyer asked him to address the main charges in the indictment, relating to the supposed intent to accumulate travel funds in his Rishon Tours account and Olmert’s use of the funds he received from different organizations to pay for his family’s flights and for upgrades for him and his family, and of his staff’s efforts to present inflated expenses for Rishon Tours to charge the organizations.

“These claims about me having an account with Rishon Tours are completely baseless. I never knew that such an account existed. No one told me about it. I never knew that there were excesses of flight funds. I never instructed my staff to do anything of the sort that is described,” Olmert said. “The prosecution created a monster so they could charge me. I never instructed Rachel Rizby Raz or Shula Zaken to take actions to accumulate funds. Such a thing never happened.

“I was never involved in flight bookings or payment. There may have been several specific instances, which I have addressed, when things were brought to my attention. But as a rule I simply didn’t deal with those things,” Olmert said. “When there were travel funding deficits, I don’t remember anyone accusing me of being responsible for them.”

Olmert characterized the prosecutions case as “delusional.”

“The whole conception that there was a ‘system’ is ridiculous. I’ve already said that mistakes were made and that I am sorry for them, but the attempt to present the actions as an orchestrated system is simply an unfounded attack by the prosecution, which in my opinion is tainted by dishonesty.”

When asked about a specific instance of double billing for a February 2008 flight to Belgium and the US, which the prosecution alleged was paid for by both the World Jewish Congress and the American Friends of the IDF, Olmert said he didn’t know about the billing actions and that nobody ever told him about it. He even quoted a Rishon Tours employee who testified in court that she was embarrassed to speak about the affair because Olmert was never involved.

The defense then examined each of the trips that appeared in the indictment, with Olmert speaking about what he recalled from the trips, including the organizations he worked with, the events he participated in and the causes he advocated for, but continuing to deny any knowledge of the way the trips were paid for.

“I didn’t travel for rest or relaxation. I traveled for work. I worked intensively and immediately returned and went back to work here in Israel,” he said.

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