Analysis: An unreliable witness with a flawed memory and an active imagination

Two facts emerged from Sunday's cross-examination of prosecution witness Morris Talansky. The first is that unless there is corroborative evidence to independently support his claims, Talansky is an unreliable, if not worthless, witness. The second is that Talansky gave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a gift of $72,500 in cash on December 24, 2003. Based on Sunday's testimony, Talansky's recollection of events that he was directly involved in is so hopelessly flawed that unless whatever he states can be cross-referenced with other independent, corroborative facts, there is no reason to believe that anything he said actually happened. Video clips of his previous testimony demonstrated that he spoke with an air of convincing certainty about events that never occurred. Time and again he presented contradictory facts with the same air of authority. When there were problems with the facts that he presented, he would resolve them by making groundless deductions. For example, at one point in the police interrogation, when he thought he had withdrawn $68,000 in cash to give Olmert a $25,000 loan, he assumed that he must have given the rest of the money to his children or, on another occasion, taken $30,000 of it back to the US. His description to the police of how he had declared the $30,000 to the US customs authority is particularly disturbing since this was a pure fabrication. His self-assured explanation of how he supported his children and grandchildren, while true, had nothing to do with the $68,000 withdrawal. It was only when the police proved to him that he had given the entire sum to Olmert aide Shula Zaken that he stopped coming up with other explanations for what he had done with the money. During the three days of testimony so far, Olmert's lawyer, Eli Zohar, has kept insisting that the police have been putting words in Talansky's mouth, words that Talansky himself had not said. That is true, though not necessarily in the way Zohar insinuated. Talansky indisputably gave Olmert $68,000 (plus another $4,500) on December 24, 2003. But had it not been for the police, he would never have remembered that he did. The police have, indeed, been putting words into Talansky's mouth. But at least some of those words are true. However, other words originating with the police but spoken through Talansky have not been proven true - at least not so far. For example, Talansky testified that he had loaned Olmert $25,000 for a vacation in Italy and Greece. He was sure the vacation had taken place during Pessah. But the police told him that Olmert and his family had gone to Italy and Greece in September-October 2004. Talansky incorporated the police information. "If they said so, it must be true," he explained to the court. Thus, we have a situation where Talansky testifies that he gave Olmert a $25,000 loan for a vacation, but it is the police who tell him when. Furthermore, when Talansky testified that he withdrew $25,000 in cash from his Jerusalem bank for the September holiday, it turned out that his bank statement showed no such withdrawal around that time. Talansky could not come up with another explanation of where he got the money to give Olmert. Zohar has not yet dealt with Talansky's allegations that he brought sums of cash to Olmert to upgrade his flight tickets and hotel rooms. Nor has he questioned Talansky on the balance of the alleged campaign contributions that Talansky gave Olmert. But after Sunday's hearing, it is hard to believe Talansky will have anything serious to contribute to the discussion. Perhaps the police have "proven" to him that he delivered cash and made his own contributions. But it is unlikely that Talansky himself has anything but a vague memory, if any, of these actions. Despite the problems with Talansky's testimony, no one disputes that he gave Olmert a cash gift of $72,500 on December 24, 2003. Not only is there corroborative proof that Talansky withdrew most of the sum on the day before he gave it to Zaken, but Zaken also recorded that she had received the money from Talansky. Zohar maintains the money was legal. It was given to cover debts from Olmert's campaign in the 2003 primary for a position on the Likud's slate of Knesset candidates. According to Zohar, there was nothing illegal about the contribution being given retroactively. In fact, at the time, there was no ceiling on the amount of campaign contributions a candidate could receive in the interim up to nine months before the next primary election. As a witness for the prosecution, Talansky has nothing to contribute to this debate. He has already said he had no idea what Olmert used his money for. If the state is to demonstrate that the gift was, indeed, illegal, it will have to find ways other than Talansky to do so.