Rishon Tours owner indicted

Owner allegedly ordered staff to produce fake travel invoices for Olmert.

By
January 13, 2012 05:56
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Ehud Olmert 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office filed an indictment on Thursday against Emanuel Baumwolspiner, founder and owner of the Rishon Tours travel agency, charging him with falsifying travel invoices to double-bill nonprofit organizations for prime minister Ehud Olmert’s foreign trips.

Baumwolspiner is also charged with transferring funds from the accounts of other Rishon Tours customers, without their knowledge or consent, to cover a large deficit in the prime minister’s account.

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Olmert is standing trial in the Jerusalem District Court on a string of corruption charges, all of which he denies, including that he allegedly double-billed nonprofit organizations for overseas flights, and used the extra money to pay for private trips for his family and himself via the Rishon Tours travel agency. That trial is now reaching its final stages.

Filed in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, the indictment covers the period from 2002 to 2006, and charges that Baumwolspiner knowingly ordered his employees to create false documentation regarding Olmert’s foreign trips, as requested by Olmert’s bureau.

That false documentation included invoices and receipts, including forged information for the various nonprofit bodies paying for the trips, and were issued at the request of Olmert’s office, the indictment charges.

The indictment alleges that Rishon Tours issued duplicate invoices for the same flights, and sent them to two or more nonprofit organizations to pay. The tour company also allegedly quoted fictitious air ticket prices that did not tally with the prices of the air ticket as charged by the airlines.

Sometimes, the indictment charges, Rishon Tours even cited travel itineraries that did not match the route that Olmert flew, to send out fictitious invoices.

Rishon Tours allegedly transferred the fictitious invoices and receipts to Olmert’s office, which is alleged to have used them to collect funding from various organizations for Olmert’s trips.

The indictment alleges that Olmert, his bureau chief Shula Zaken and foreign relations coordinator Rachel Rizby Raz presented the fake invoices to various bodies, including nonprofit organizations and the state, with requests to pay for Olmert’s travel expenses, allegedly concealing that other bodies were also covering the costs of the same trip.

The indictment lists several examples of the alleged falsification of travel expenses, including a trip Olmert took to Brussels and New York in April 2002. Olmert’s real route was Tel Aviv-Brussels- Frankfurt-New York-Tel Aviv, according to the indictment, but Rishon Tours allegedly issued travel receipts and invoices for a fake route, mainly via Rishon Tours employee Hadar Salzman- Shiponi.

The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces charity allegedly paid an invoice for a travel ticket from Tel Aviv- Brussels-Frankfurt-Tel Aviv, for $6,689, whereas the World Jewish Congress paid an invoice for a route from Brussels-Frankfurt-New York- Tel Aviv, for $2,804. The actual cost of Olmert’s flight ticket was allegedly $8,240, leaving a surplus of $1,253, which was added to Olmert’s Rishon Tours account, according to the indictment.

Allegedly, around $90,000 was accumulated using this method. This money, the indictment charges, was then used by Olmert, to pay for private trips for himself and his family, including flight upgrades to first class.

Baumwolspiner is alleged to have met every few months with Zaken, and later on also with Rizby Raz.

The indictment charges that at these meetings, which were held in Zaken’s office, Zaken, Baumwolspiner and Rizby Raz would examine the status of Olmert’s account at Rishon Tours.

Rizby Raz allegedly brought records she had prepared of Olmert’s travels including his real itineraries, payments collected from various organizations and details of private trips taken by the former prime minister and his family.

According to the indictment, the offset between the surplus monies from Olmert’s official trips and the debit balance of his private trips was allegedly initially covered up using debit balances in various private travel accounts.

In August 2004, Rishon Tours’ bookkeeping office allegedly opened an account card in the name of “Olmert Private” that was used to collect the excess public trip money and use it to cover private trips and upgrades.

The indictment charges that Olmert and his family flew abroad on dozens of private trips during 2002 to 2006, at a total cost of $100,000 – covered by surplus funds via Rishon Tours.

From the time Olmert became acting prime minister in January 2006, until he left office in March 2009, he refrained from going on trips abroad funded by private organizations, and the “Olmert Private” account at Rishon Tours had an outstanding balance of $11,000, all according to the indictment.

However, from then until October 2007, Olmert’s son Ariel allegedly traveled abroad several times and continued to charge the “Olmert Private” account, to the sum of $2,741.

In May 2007, Baumwolspiner is alleged to have met Olmert, who transferred five checks totaling NIS 12,460 to Rishon Tours, covering about a quarter of the outstanding balance, the indictment charges.

According to the indictment, the remainder of the outstanding sum was covered by Rishon Tours in December 2007, when Baumwolspiner is alleged to have ordered his staff to transfer monies from other customers’ accounts, without their knowledge or consent.

Baumwolspiner’s attorneys, Ruth Litvak and Motti Lazar, said on Thursday that Baumwolspiner was a “pawn of powerful individuals,” adding that they were convinced he would be acquitted of all charges.

“Mr. Baumwolspiner’s file has been lying in the state attorney’s office for more than three years. They chose not to make a decision on it even though indictments were filed against all the other individuals connected to this affair,” Litvak said. “Now, as Ehud Olmert’s trial is reaching an end, the state attorney’s office decides to bring [Baumwolspiner] to trial.”

In his own trial in the Jerusalem District Court, Olmert has denied doublebilling organizations for trips abroad. Under crossexamination in July, the former prime minister said he had thought the balance of his Rishon Tours account would have been covered by extensive air miles accumulated during numerous first-class flights overseas.

In testimony to the court in June, Olmert maintained that Zaken would inform him whenever he owed Rishon Tours money and that he believed he had paid for his private trips. He also stated that he believed his family was eligible to fly using air miles.


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