Analysis: Dramatic testimony, but not decisive

It appears as though the state still has a way to go to shore up its case.

talansky court 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
talansky court 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Is the state prosecution making a mountain out of a molehill? Or will the evidence uncovered in the Olmert-Talansky nexus lead to a criminal indictment against the prime minister that stands a genuine chance of leading to a conviction? Based on Tuesday's hearing in the Jerusalem District Court, it appears as though the state still has a way to go to shore up its case. What do we know at this point, on the basis of Morris Talansky's testimony? First of all, we know that he gave Olmert $150,000 over the course of about 14 years, from the time Olmert decided to run for mayor of Jerusalem until he became prime minister at the beginning of 2006. It appears that a large part of Talansky's money did indeed go to cover Olmert's election expenses. Talansky gave almost half of the total sum, $68,000 to be exact, to cover Olmert's primary campaign expenses in 2002. It was not clear from Tuesday's testimony when, exactly, the New York businessman gave the money to Olmert and whether the gift was in violation of the Party Funding Law. That still needs to be clarified. Talansky also made clear that he contributed to Olmert's two campaigns for the Jerusalem mayoralty. It is not clear exactly how much he gave to these two campaigns. But it does seem clear from his testimony that he, and other donors through him, did contribute substantial sums to these campaigns and, later, to Olmert's Likud primary campaigns. For example, Talansky testified that in one campaign, he wrote out four checks for for $7,500 each from his own account, in his own name and the names of his wife, his son and his brother. It wasn't clear from his testimony, however, whether these sums were part of the $150,000. Even if Olmert used the money for his election campaigns, we do not know from Tuesday's testimony whether he declared it in the campaign records. This issue did not come up in Talansky's testimony since he did not know what happened to the money after he gave it to Olmert and his aide, Shula Zaken. But that issue could be a key one in the prosecution's deliberations on whether to indict Olmert. In addition, Talansky paid Olmert for some of the expenses he incurred during speaking trips to the US, over and above what Olmert received from the institutions that invited him. Some of the institutions or private donors also paid him extra expense money - apparently at his insistence. These gifts could constitute a violation of the ban on gifts to public officials. So far, however, no one has been charged for violating this law. One of the factors the prosecution would have to take into account is the sum of money that Olmert received. Based on Talansky's testimony on Tuesday, we do not know how much that was. Talansky gave two or three examples of extra expenses, but they added up to the relatively small sum of about $10,000. Another issue that came up on Tuesday was the loans that Talansky extended Olmert that were allegedly not paid back. Talansky referred to three loans totaling about $50,000. Because they are loans, Olmert could pay the money back at a moment's notice and put an end to that part of the affair. The most damaging aspect of Talansky's testimony as far as Olmert is concerned has to do with the last three years of the financial relationship between the men. Talansky said that during those years, he brought Olmert 10 envelopes stuffed with cash in New York. In addition, Talansky said he gave Zaken a number of envelopes, perhaps no more than two or three. It is not clear who the money originally came from or what Olmert used it for. Talansky said he stopped contributing to Olmert after giving him $68,000 in 2002. On the other hand, he said the envelopes he brought Zaken in those last three years contained between $3,000 and $8,000 each. He did not say how much money was in the envelopes he gave directly to Olmert in New York. Some of the money may have been for the extra expenses he mentioned earlier. Some may have come from benefits held for Olmert during those years - but after 2002, when Olmert did not run in any primary campaign. State Attorney Moshe Lador told the court that if the state decided to indict Olmert, he would delve into these questions in depth during the trial. Furthermore, the investigation is still under way and more evidence will, obviously, be uncovered. At this moment, however, it is still too early to determine whether the state has a strong enough case to go to court. We may know more when the attorneys representing Olmert and Zaken get their chance to question Talansky in July.