Olmert arriving at trial 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert testified in court over his involvement in the
Rishon Tours double billing affair on Monday, claiming he never knowingly took
money from charitable organizations to pay for flights for him and his
In his testimony in Jerusalem District Court, the third to date,
Olmert tried to distance himself from the everyday goings on of his office,
saying he had no knowledge of the way flight arrangements were made and paid for
by his staff, and he “never dealt with the small accounting issues” such as the
price of airline tickets.
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Olmert has been indicted on charges that he had
billed two and sometimes three different organizations to pay for his flight
expenses when traveling abroad.
The prosecution identified 17 such trips
during Olmert’s 2006- 2009 term as prime minister.
Olmert is accused of
pocketing roughly NIS 90,000 to pay for flight tickets and upgrades for family
Olmert conceded that there may have been mistakes made in the
payments for his flights, but rejected the claim that he had knowingly swindled
nonprofit organizations or that he was criminally responsible for the acts he
was accused of.
He said that the mistakes might have arisen due to the
fact that the flight plans were often made months in advance and that his travel
coordinator, Rachel Rizby Raz, who was brought before the court as part of the
prosecution’s case, would add on additional sponsors as new events were
He stressed that the standing instructions had been only that
the flights be paid for and it was never said, nor even hinted, that excess
payments should be put aside. He said that as far as he knew his family flew on
points accumulated from his travels and when necessary paid for tickets out of
his private accounts.
“The thought that people believe I would try to
profit from these organizations, which are close to my heart, haunts me
relentlessly. Who did I profit off at AKIM [the National Association for the
Habilitation of the Mentally Handicapped in Israel], Aleh [a network of
residential facilities for children with severe physical and cognitive
disabilities], the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers?” the
former prime minister asked.
Olmert said his flights were supposed to be
paid for under conditions that everyone was aware of, and that he believed his
family was eligible to fly using frequent flier miles he accumulated on flights
paid for by charitable organizations.
He denied having any direct contact
with the manager of the Rishon Tours travel agency, as was described in the
indictment sheet. “I thought the agency gave me efficient travelrelated service.
That is where it started and ended,” he said.
Olmert said he never
bothered with the details of the flight plans and had left it to his
“From time to time Rachel [Rizby Raz] would approach
me with a specific question and I would answer her about it, but does anybody
seriously think that the vice premier would sit with a calculator and make the
calculations about who paid what?” Olmert said. “There are people in whose
judgment I trusted and continue to do so to this day. Even now I am convinced
that they acted in good faith. They may have made mistakes, I may have made
mistakes, but is there anyone who hasn’t? At the end of the day if a mistake was
made the responsibility falls on the principal party, but personal
responsibility in the criminal sense to gain profit?”
When asked about the
payments for his wife Aliza’s flights to Rome and to South Korea, on which she
accompanied him and which were allegedly paid for by double billing, Olmert said
that as a rule the government should have paid for the flights, but that he let
his staff take care of the details.
Olmert testified that for much of his
time in the public service, he was in poor financial condition, owing money to
the bank. He said that despite a relatively generous salary, he had to provide
for four children who wanted to go to university abroad.