'Messer may testify against PM'

Olmert's former law partner may serve as witness against PM and former bureau chief Zaken.

Olmert cabinet 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert cabinet 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's associate and former law partner Uri Messer may testify against him in the illicit funding affair, the Jerusalem District Court announced Wednesday. Protocols of a discussion concerning the possibility of Messer testifying for the prosecution were released at the behest of Yediot Aharonot. Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel said that during a discussion held on May 6, "we have considered the case material and it might be used against the two defendants we are dealing with [Olmert and his former bureau chief Shula Zaken], and perhaps also against Messer. He went on to say that Messer might nevertheless serve as a witness. "There are other observations regarding attorney Messer which I will not explain in detail. His situation, legally and practically, is different." On Tuesday evening, Israel Police's former chief investigator, Cmdr. (ret.) Moshe Mizrahi, told The Jerusalem Post that evidence uncovered in the new criminal investigation of Olmert should implicate him in a second bribery case as well. According to Mizrahi, who was the most senior police investigator in the country from 2001 to 2004, uncovering the role of Messer in handling the large cash sums sent to the prime minister by New York financier Morris Talansky has also incriminated Olmert in an ongoing police investigation from 2007 into suspicions that Olmert helped arrange an investment opportunity for Messer while serving as minister of industry, trade and labor. "Olmert is in very serious trouble. It's not looking good for him," Mizrahi said. "The main suspicion is that Talansky, for many years, sent money to Zaken and to Olmert while Olmert was mayor [of Jerusalem] and minister of industry, trade and labor. Then, either Zaken or Olmert would send the money to Messer, who acted as cashier, distributing it when needed," Mizrahi continued. "That makes Messer the middle-man, the manager of funds, which means the old 2007 investigation into the Investment Center has now been upgraded and made far more severe. Because it has now been established that Messer was the cashier who distributed the funds, and Olmert, as minister of industry, trade and labor, intervened on behalf of Messer to help along an investment that Messer was hired to promote." Olmert is suspected of ensuring that a silica factory, which Messer was paid to help endorse, would receive approval from the ministry's Investment Center. The factory was subsequently built near Dimona, with a $15 million injection from the state, courtesy of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. "This is no longer a case of a conflict of interests regarding the Investment Center investigation. We're looking at full-blown bribery," Mizrahi said. He outlined how, when Talansky arrived in Israel for Pessah, "police conducted a routine interrogation, and didn't expect he would provide them with such a sharp picture" of Messer's role as Olmert's cashier. Since then, police have been frantically working to accumulate evidence, he said. "They have a very strong case. It's difficult to see how Olmert will get out of it," he continued. The police's official version, that Olmert is suspected of "illegally receiving funds," was the result of a cautious approach by the National Fraud Unit, but was not the real direction of the investigation, Mizrahi said. "You don't even need Talansky to have one count of bribery here, and this is major bribery," he said. The New York financier's claim of having no business interests in Israel was an unconvincing line of defense, Mizrahi said. "Often, what happens is that contributions come in for years, and when a favor is needed in the opposite direction, it's granted," he said. "This can be seen in the suspicion that Olmert helped to promote Talansky's mini-bar company." Talansky is almost certainly being prevented from returning to the US by a no-fly ban, Mizrahi said. "He is a suspect, not just a central witness. But the main focus is, of course, on Olmert." He added that Zaken was also suspected of handling illegal money as a public official. Meanwhile, two American-Jewish billionaire businessmen, Sheldon Adelson and Slim-Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham, have been questioned by police concerning the illicit funding investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Channel 2 reported Tuesday that Olmert was suspected of asking Adelson to help Talansky market his hotel mini-bar restocking service. The 75-year-old Adelson, who owns the world's biggest casino operator - US casino company Las Vegas Sands Corp. - reportedly told police he was having difficulty remembering what had happened. Abraham is suspected of transferring money from Talansky to Olmert. Abraham is also allegedly involved in two other scandals involving the prime minister - the Bank Leumi affair and the case involving Olmert's purchase of a home on the capital's Rehov Cremieux. Meanwhile Tuesday afternoon, detectives from the National Fraud Unit entered the offices of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry in Jerusalem and confiscated documents "linked to the investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert," police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said. Rosenfeld added that the search "should not be seen as a raid." On Monday, the National Fraud Unit raided the Jerusalem Municipality, searching for documents linked to Olmert during his two terms as mayor between 1993 and 2003. Some reports have speculated that Olmert is suspected of helping Talansky's associates obtain building permits in Jerusalem, and claim that police focused Monday's search on the city's Planning and Construction department.