The Holyland Tower in Jerusalem 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s brother, Yossi, on Monday night was called by the state as a witness in the Holyland case to help prove bribery charges against his state, but surprised the state going “hostile” and denying his prior statements to police, said media reports.
In earlier statements to police, Yossi said that he met with and received checks from Shmuel Duchner in 2002-2003.
Although Yossi himself never tied the money to Olmert, Duchner testified that he gave NIS 500,000 to Yossi as a bribe at his brother’s request, in exchange for Olmert helping Duchner overcome legal and zoning obstacles to the Holyland project.
But on Monday, Yossi testified that “I don’t remember” getting any checks from Duchner, said reports.
The infamous Holyland case involves 15 other defendants along with Olmert, all of who are accused of massive bribery and fraud to move the large real estate project in south Jerusalem forward.
Yossi’s testimony has been considered crucial to the prosecution’s case against Olmert, now that Duchner, who had been the state’s main witness, died suddenly of long-term health difficulties in March.
The state had hoped that Yossi would confirm his statements to police about receiving money from Duchner.
Even though Yossi had denied that Olmert knew anything about his receiving the funds, the state believed it had a strong argument based on Duchner’s testimony prior to his death, which stated that because Duchner and Yossi did not know each other, there could be no explanation for Duchner giving Yossi money other than at Olmert’s request.
Yossi testified via videoconference from Washington, out of fear that his black market creditors would harm him if he tried to return to Israel.
Yossi’s contradicting of his police statements forced the state to get the court to declare him a hostile witness, meaning he could be questioned aggressively as if he were a defense witness.
Explaining how Olmert would not have known about his desperate condition, Yossi said “he was not the closest brother for me. I did not update him about everything,” said reports.
He added that “Ehud knew that I had some economic problems, but not the full scope.”
Judge David Rozen and lead prosecutor for the case Liat Ben-Ari repeatedly blasted Yossi for the seemingly obvious and large discrepancy between his answers to police and to the court, according to reports.
Rozen asked Yossi if he was so convinced, as he was in his current testimony, that he did not receive money from Duchner, then “why didn’t you tell Barak [police interrogator] that this is all shtuyot [foolishness]?” Ben-Ari, for her part, baited Yossi when he was explaining the change in his story, and noted that Olmert was in the room with him during the current testimony, said reports.
She implied that Yossi made a subconscious mental slip by mentioning Olmert’s presence in answering the question, a slip which suggested that he told the police the truth when his brother was not in the room, but was lying on Monday because he was now in the room with him.
Yossi also appeared to contradict himself by saying at one point that he had never met Duchner, but saying at another point that though he denied receiving money from Duchner in 2002-2003, he admitted receiving money from him in 1996, said reports.
He tried to resolve what even he seemed concerned was an apparent contradiction, by arguing that he did not actually meet Duchner when he received funds from him in 1996.
He also, noted reports, denied receiving funds from Morris Talansky, which the state claims Talansky gave Yossi on request from Olmert, despite his bank account showing the receipt of $30,000 – at the time that the state says Talansky gave Yossi that exact amount of money.