'I never said Olmert misused money'

Talansky tells court it was the police who inferred PM had used the funds he gave him inappropriately.

talansky funny 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
talansky funny 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Ehud Olmert's lawyer, Eli Zohar, on Thursday accused the state of cutting a deal with Morris Talansky by making it clear to the US businessman that he would not be considered a corruption suspect in return for his giving the state the answers it wanted in the investigation of the prime minister. Talansky denied the allegation and said he had told the truth without any strings attached. The exchange between Olmert's lawyer and the state's key witness took place during the first day of Talansky's five-day cross-examination by Olmert's battery of lawyers, headed by Zohar. The hearing will resume on Friday morning. During questioning by State Attorney Moshe Lador in May, Talansky told the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court that he had contributed $150,000 to four Olmert election campaigns between 1993 and 2003, had loaned Olmert almost $20,000 which had never been repaid and brought him envelopes of cash to cover upgrades to Olmert's flight tickets and hotels when he came to the US to speak on behalf of Jewish and Israeli organizations. "During the meeting [with Lador and Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel on May 4,] they made a deal with you," Zohar told Talansky. "They did not give a formal promise [that you would not be a suspect], but made it clear that nothing would be done against you." "No," replied Talansky. "You are saying that I promised to tell them what they wanted to know in return for not being a suspect. [My lawyer,] Jacques Chen told me to always tell the truth and I always did." Zohar did not quit. "You left that meeting with the understanding that Olmert was the main suspect and that you had to remember as much as possible that could be used against him and then you would be able to go home," he told Talansky. "The message you received was that you must be a witness and tell everything you could and then everything would be all right." "There was never any such talk," replied Talansky. "I am old enough to know one has to tell the truth at all times." Thursday's eight-hour hearing can essentially be divided into three parts. In the first, Zohar tried to undermine Talansky's credentials as a witness in his testimony against the prime minister. In the second, he tried to prove that Talansky was a brutal businessman who clashed with many of the people he did business with and even used physical violence against them. The third section of the trial was unclear to almost everyone in the courtroom except - possibly - for Olmert's attorneys. In this segment, which lasted about two hours, Zohar asked Talansky about transactions in his bank account during the past two or three years, a period in which Talansky did not give any money to Olmert. In the first section, Zohar asked Talansky to verify the dates he was interrogated by the police, and the number of hours per interrogation session. Since Talansky could not remember every session and its length in detail, Zohar maintained that Talansky was not an accurate witness. He also tried to establish that Talansky was a nervous witness who felt under heavy pressure from his police interrogators. Talansky confirmed that. "The police shouted at me," Talansky said. "How can you expect right answers, logical answers and rational answers?" he asked. He also described himself as a "victim, without a doubt." In response, Zohar asked, "Is that why there were so many contradictions in your testimony?" Zohar asked whether Talansky could confirm that he had made up answers, that he had told the police things just so that they would leave him alone. Finally, he asked Talansky whether he had given replies that he knew the interrogators wanted to hear just to please them. "I can't recall trying to please them," Talansky replied. "I felt the interrogators were trying to lead me into answering affirmatively to what they asked. So, many times I avoided the answer they expected." Regarding the May 4 meeting including Talansky, Chen, Lador and Abarbanel, Zohar tried to get Talansky to admit that he had understood from the prosecutors that he was not a suspect. Furthermore, he read from the protocol of the meeting that Abarbanel and Lador had told Talansky it would be "more impressive" if Talansky testified while appearing to be a suspect because it would look like he was taking a risk. Talansky insisted he had not interpreted the meeting that way or understood the prosecutors' alleged hints. All he was interested in was obtaining a document in writing that said he was not a suspect, and this the state had refused to give him, he said. Zohar also tried to prove that Talansky was angry at Olmert because he had been led to believe that the prime minister had used the money he contributed for purposes other than his election campaigns. Talansky denied he was angry. He said he did not understand what had happened and wanted Olmert to explain, but that they had been friends for 15 years. In the second part of the questioning, Zohar presented affidavits and a lawsuit from three people regarding a business fight between Talansky and a New York securities investor, Frederick Schulman. Talansky had sued Schulman, charging that he had not paid back a four-month loan of $300,000 which Schulman had allegedly wanted to invest in a ladies' garment company called Forgotten Women. Schulman had claimed he had not borrowed money from Talansky but that Talansky himself had invested the money in the company, which then went bankrupt. Talansky claimed Schulman owed him the balance of the loan, about $235,000. Several times, Zohar caught Talansky making mistakes in response to his questions about the case. Zohar called them lies. For example, Talansky denied that he had charged 24 percent interest to Schulman on the loan. But the lawsuit clearly stated that the interest rate was 24%. Talansky explained that the original interest rate had been 12% and that was what he had been referring to. He said he had increased the interest rate to 24% after discovering that the security put up by Schulman for the alleged loan was worthless. Talansky lost that case, which was heard eight years ago. There were several similar incidents in which Zohar branded Talansky a liar. Another one had to do with the fact that Talansky said he was not a money lender. But the brief described him as such. Talansky said he lent money only "occasionally" and usually to friends. Zohar also focused on allegations that Talansky had shoved Schulman and threatened him, demanding his money back. Talansky denied the charge. Zohar pointed out that it was his word against three who had accused him of doing so. He also referred to the lawsuit against Talansky filed by his 84-year-old dentist, who accused him of attacking him over a $4,000 fee for bridgework. Talansky explained that the actual bill had been $600 and that the dentist had tried to bilk him out of the rest of the money. He also denied attacking his friend and said two witnesses who were in the office at the time had signed affidavits testifying that the dentist had attacked him. The third part of Thursday's cross-examination was controversial. For about two hours, Zohar questioned Talansky about deposits and withdrawals into and from his bank account. At one point he asked Talansky to explain a $1 million deposit, which Talansky could not remember at first, but eventually recalled was payment for a house he had sold. He couldn't remember the purchaser's name and Zohar asked him to check his records and produce it. Finally, Lador stood up and objected to the line of questioning, which focused on the last two or three years, during which Talansky had not given any money to Olmert. Jerusalem District Court President Moussia Arad considered issuing a gag order to reporters on that part of the testimony but decided not to at the last moment after Olmert's lawyers protested. One of them told the court that the press had published Olmert's bank statements and so there was nothing wrong with publishing Talansky's. In another development, Ran Shapira resigned earlier this week from the team of lawyers representing Olmert. Yediot Aharonot reported that in the wake of the new investigation against the prime minister regarding the double- and triple billing affair, Shapira urged that the defense team negotiate a plea bargain with the state. He said that he feared that otherwise Olmert might go to jail. His recommendation was strongly rejected by the other members of the team.