Analysis: Suspicions surrounding PM remain

Cross-examination shows Talansky is unreliable.

talansky court 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
talansky court 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his lawyers do not have as much to celebrate after five days of grueling cross-examination as may appear on the surface, given the contradictions and mistaken facts that prosecution witness Morris Talansky told police during his interrogations. They did score two successes, though the second may have been lost on the public, the political echelon and the media, who should have learned an important lesson from these five days. First, they proved that Talansky is an unreliable witness who mixed his facts up time and time again. Second, they proved that the state's decision to hold a pre-trial hearing for Talansky caused more harm than good. So many people were so incensed by what Talansky had to say about Olmert in his direct examination two months ago that they called for the prime minister's immediate resignation. Labor Party leader Ehud Barak forced Olmert to allow Kadima to schedule a primary to choose a new party leader and, possibly, a new prime minister on the basis of Talansky's unchallenged testimony on May 27. Two months later, it has emerged that Talansky's word cannot be taken at face value on any matter. When he couldn't remember a particular incident, he deduced the rest of the facts from one real or assumed one, and then filled in the details with descriptions of events that often turned out to be imaginary. Nevertheless, despite the humiliation that Talansky underwent at the hands of Olmert's lawyers, many of the disturbing allegations against the prime minister that emerged during Talansky's direct examination remain. The most important of them was the more than $300,000 that Talansky allegedly unknowingly gave Bank Leumi to cover the overdraft that Olmert's party, Jerusalem United, had amassed during the 1998 Jerusalem municipal election campaign. Between June and October 1999, Talansky's $300,000 had been transferred from his private account at Israel Development Bank to an account that Olmert associate Uri Messer held in trust for Talansky at Bank Leumi in Jerusalem. Messer later transferred the money as security into the account of a non-profit organization that he headed to elect Olmert and his Jerusalem United candidates to the city council. Messer had hoped to cover the debt with party funding payments from the Interior Ministry after the election. The amount of funding was based on the number of candidates each party elected to the council. But Olmert managed to elect only three council members instead of the 10 he had counted on. The funding he received did not cover the debts. Messer had no choice but to forfeit Talansky's money to the bank. Talansky claims he did not know Messer had used his money as security for Olmert's campaign. So does the prime minister. Olmert's lawyer Nevot Tel-Tzur presented the court with a document signed by Messer confirming the transfer of Talansky's money to the account of Jerusalem United to be used as security. Olmert's name does not appear in the letter. Tel-Tzur told The Jerusalem Post that whether Messer told Talansky about the security or not is a problem between the two of them. Olmert, at any rate, had nothing to do with it. In his testimony to police, as it appeared Wednesday in Yediot Aharonot, Messer said Olmert did know about the use of Talansky's money. "Olmert knew about it," he said. "Yes. He knew about it from me." As poor a witness as Talansky proved to be, the fact remains that Messer and, perhaps, Olmert may have stolen Talansky's money by using it as security for Jerusalem United without his authorization, losing it to the bank and never paying him back. According to Talansky's testimony in court on May 27, Messer came to him in New York and asked him to provide $300,000 as security for an overdraft that Olmert's party had amassed. Talansky said he refused. "My name is not Moshe Rockefeller," he told Messer by his account. Several months later, Talansky continued, when he was in Israel on a visit, Messer called him and asked him to sign a letter addressed to Olmert which he, Messer, had drafted. The later stated, "I have been advised that Bank Leumi has liquidated a security deposit by me to secure the draft that was created by Jerusalem United." In the letter, Talansky asked Olmert to return the money. Talansky said he turned to Messer and said, "I never gave a security deposit. I never gave you anything." Tel-Tzur revealed that Messer asked Talansky to sign the letter two months after Bank Leumi seized the $300,000. Of course, it is possible that Talansky is lying or doesn't remember that he authorized Messer to use the money as security for Jerusalem United. Olmert's lawyers have already proved that he did not remember, or pretended not to remember, that it was he who had instructed the Israel Development Bank to transfer the $300,000 to the account that Messer held in trust for him at Bank Leumi. But even if Talansky did actually agree to use his money as security for Olmert's party - and that is a big "if" - there is still the question of whether Olmert's party was allowed to receive a $300,000 contribution, particularly from a foreign national, and several years after the campaign was over. The same question applies to a contribution of $72,500 that Talansky gave to Olmert in his primary race for head of the Likud in 1999. Talansky made another serious mistake in this case when he thought he had withdrawn the money to loan Olmert $25,000-$30,000 for a trip he planned to make with his family. The impression that this mix-up made on the public was again that Talansky was unreliable. But Olmert's lawyers themselves clarified that he had given the entire $72,500 to Olmert, albeit as a campaign contribution. But was it a campaign contribution? The money was given in cash to Olmert's bureau chief, Shula Zaken. She recorded that she gave $7,500 to Olmert and the rest to Messer. Messer kept the money in a strongbox at his bank. From what we know at this point, the contribution was not recorded. In fact, Olmert's lawyers did not prove the money was used for the campaign. In his answers to the police, Messer said he believed Olmert used all the money from the strongbox for his personal expenses. "Isn't it true that the money you safeguarded was not used for elections?" asked the interrogator. "I don't think they were used for elections," replied Messer. "It wasn't for elections." Talansky turned out to be Talansky, but that does not mean the investigation is over.