'Cancel Talansky's pretrial testimony'

First day of cross examination ends with Olmert's lawyer questioning credibility of key witness.

talansky going to cry 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
talansky going to cry 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert's attorney said Sunday he hopes the Jerusalem District Court will strike Morris Talansky's pre-trial testimony from the record since he has allegedly proved the state knew all along how unreliable it was. The lawyer, Eli Zohar spoke to reporters after completing his cross-examination of Talansky in the district court. The questioning was interrupted for almost a year because Talansky had refused to return to Israel for fear he might incriminate himself in the US. On Monday, attorney Micha Fetman, who represents Olmert's former close aide, Shula Zaken, will cross-examine Talansky and then State Attorney Moshe Lador will question the witness for a second time about allegations he made illegal cash payments to Olmert. On Sunday, Zohar also said in court that the prosecution had deliberately tried to withhold from the defense documents proving its allegation that the state knew how problematic Talansky's testimony was and had nevertheless insisted on taking pre-trial testimony from him. "The state prosecution tried to prevent the disclosure of their internal memos revealing that it already knew Talansky was an unreliable witness who was in trouble in the US. They knew this even before the Supreme Court approved the highly unusual procedure of holding the pre-trial testimony. The prosecution did not inform the court of these facts or reveal its doubts about the witness. On the contrary, it described Talansky as a witness regarding whom there was no dispute about the importance of his testimony," Zohar said. In May 2008, after police interrogated Talansky about his financial relations with Olmert, the state asked the Jerusalem District Court to agree to take pre-trial testimony from him before he left the country. The prosecution argued that this was necessary because should the state decide to prosecute Olmert, Talansky, an American citizen and resident and a long-time friend of Olmert's, might not return to testify at the trial. Olmert's lawyers opposed the state's request. When the lower court approved it, they appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court agreed to the pre-trial testimony after the state argued that it was very important for their case against Olmert. Now, Zohar charged, documents proved that the state knew how rickety Talansky's testimony was and was also aware that it might be because he was worried about being investigated in the US. According to one of the documents revealed, Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel recorded for himself the minutes of a phone conversation with Talansky's Israeli lawyer, Jacques Chen, on May 16, 2008, a few days before the Supreme Court heard Olmert's appeal against the Talansky's pre-trial testimony. In that conversation, Abarbanel expressed his concern to Chen about contradictions in Talansky's testimony. "After an internal consultation [within the Justice Ministry], I called Jacques Chen and asked him whether he thought it possible that [Talansky] was concealing facts which could get him involved in technical violations, particularly in the US," Abarbanel wrote in the memo. "I said to him that if Talansky has some kind of "blister" that makes it hard for him to walk, we must know this and maybe we can try to remove it." During that conversation, Abarbanel also gave Chen two examples of Talansky contradicting himself on different occasions when he was questioned by police. He told Chen he was worried that the changes in his stories might have nothing to do with the subject of the investigation in Israel. Zohar added that had the Supreme Court known all this, it would not have approved the state's request to have Talansky give pre-trial testimony. No matter what happened in the future, he said, the pre-trial testimony, which should never have taken place, had forced Olmert to resign from office. The state eventually handed over the internal memos of the conversations with Chen to the prosecution, but only after being ordered to do so by the court. However, Lador said his initial refusal to hand them over had not been because of their contents, but because they were internal memos of conversations between two lawyers, and therefore did not constitute investigative material which the prosecution was obliged to hand over to the defense. Lador warned that being forced to hand over internal memos of conversations between lawyers would set a dangerous precedent. Secondly, said Lador, the prosecution had never maintained that the case against Olmert hinged on Talansky's testimony, but only that the testimony was an important component in the case against the former prime minister. Finally, Lador told reporters afterwards that the state had insisted on Talansky's testimony being given because it believed that what the American Jewish businessman had to say would contribute to getting to the truth in the case.