Olmert denies existence of 'secret cash-box'

Former PM completely rejects "baseless claim", says there was "no secret cashbox, no conspiracy, nothing."

By RON FRIEDMAN
June 21, 2011 12:50
3 minute read.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Ehud Olmert 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert vigorously denied on Tuesday the existence of a “secret cashbox” he is accused of using between the years 2003 and 2006.

In his eighth day of testimony before the Jerusalem District Court, Olmert rejected the term that the prosecution chose to employ because of the associations that it implied.

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“I completely reject the allegation. I never held a secret cashbox of any kind. It is a baseless claim. The very term is insufferable – it suggests I conspired to hide something because it was tainted by corruption. I reject this out of hand,” stressed Olmert.

According to the indictment, Uri Messer, Olmert’s longtime friend and former partner, kept a secret cash fund for Olmert which amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some of the money came from New York businessman Moshe Talansky and some from other figures unknown to the state. At one point, the indictment stated, the fund amounted to $350,000.

“During the time in question, and even before that, Talansky transferred money to me for campaign financing and the person who managed the funds was Uri Messer. No secret cashbox, no conspiracy, nothing,” said the former prime minister.

According to Olmert, the funds were held by Messer as a lawyer and a trustee in the way Messer thought was best. “In retrospect I found out that we were talking about a safe, but that has nothing to do with the accusations. Since the funds were legal the safe was legal. My objections are about the accusations that I attempted to hide the existence of the funds because they were illegal,” said Olmert.

When asked how he himself termed the money, Olmert said that he called it his “political funds” and that it was used to finance election campaigns and special events.

Olmert also objected to the prosecution’s use of the term “large sums” in the indictment, claiming they described the sums as “huge” in order to increase the severity of the alleged offense. Referring to earlier testimony, Olmert said “You heard for yourselves the amounts of money that were raised routinely. We’re talking about NIS 1.8 million-NIS 1.9m. a year for political expenditures... The 300,000, give or take, that was in the safe, is not much in comparison. It is a large amount for me in terms of personal funds, but minuscule in comparison to the amounts that are regularly used for political purposes.”

In order to compare the amounts that were kept in Messer’s safe to the amounts routinely used by other politicians, the defense submitted a State Comptroller’s Report on the money raised by President Shimon Peres in one of his labor primary campaigns, indicating he raised roughly NIS 300,000.

Olmert said that the ease with which the prosecutions uttered their accusations was insufferable.

“Slander like this is unacceptable, whether it is addressed to a prime minister or a regular citizen. It is shameful, said Olmert. “I respect the State Attorney’s Office. I was a public servant for decades. Nobody who ever worked with me can say I ever showed disrespect to a public service position, but I ask myself, when did they become so irresponsible, so uncritical about their behavior. It bothers me as a citizen.

Olmert concluded the day’s testimony talking of some of the uses that the cashbox money was used for. He spoke about a series of political events and activities that Olmert had undertaken, paying for them out of the funds Messer kept.

“I held an event at the national fairgrounds in December 2003 in which 2,500 people participated. I led the public campaign over the evacuation of the Gaza strip. All these things cost money.

The party wouldn’t pay for it because it was broke and others wouldn’t pay for it because it was so controversial. The money came out of our political funds account,” Olmert said.

As to the source of the funds, Olmert refused to disclose the donor’s name publicly, agreeing only to write them on a note for the judges and the prosecution to read, as long as the note was placed under a publication ban.

“The money was donated to me by people from abroad who were familiar with my activities and shared my beliefs and possibly my expectation for my political future,” he said.

Olmert will testify again on Thursday.


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