'Olmert took cash for his own use'

Court to convene to set date for Talansky testimony.

olmert knesset 224 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
olmert knesset 224 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The National Fraud Unit believes Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made "personal use" of the funds he received from New York financier Morris Talansky, a senior law enforcement official confirmed on Wednesday evening, as a media-ban on the criminal investigation was lifted. "Talansky transferred money to Olmert for personal use, and not just for campaign expenses," the official said. Olmert has claimed that the stream of cash envelopes he received from Talansky over several years was used to fund election campaigns and to cover campaign deficits, but his assertion is now being openly challenged by police. The assertion of "personal use of funds" was tantamount to an allegation of bribery, a second source said, suggesting that police were softening their terminology to maintain a cautious approach. Shula Zaken, Olmert's former bureau chief and secretary of many years "knowingly handled the funds," the law enforcement official added, making her, too, liable to criminal charges. "Since Olmert became prime minister, and up until this day, he has failed to register or declare the funds he received from Talansky," the official said. A team of National Fraud Unit detectives will fly to the United States soon to continue the investigation, the official added. On Tuesday, a former senior police official said police had found Olmert's account of the cash's destinations to be "unconvincing." "Olmert said the money went to cover [campaign] deficits, but he has shown no proof for that. Some fictitious accounts may also be involved," the source said. The National Fraud Unit will question Olmert for a second time in Jerusalem on Friday morning, the Israel Police announced on Tuesday. In a separate development Wednesday, the Knesset approved in a preliminary reading a bill calling on any prime minister under criminal investigation to resign. The bill, submitted by Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines, comes at a particularly inconvenient time for Olmert, who is currently the subject of five different investigations. On Friday, the Jerusalem District Court is due to consider a request by the attorneys representing Olmert and Zaken to postpone Talansky's pre-trial testimony for two weeks. The court has scheduled the testimony for this coming Sunday, but the lawyers maintained in a brief filed last Thursday that they would not have enough time to prepare to cross-examine Talansky. "We ask the distinguished court to postpone by two weeks the date of the Talansky's early testimony hearing, scheduled for May 25, so that it will begin on Sunday, June 8," attorneys Eli Zohar, Nevot Tel-Tzur and Micha Fetman wrote. The state did not respond in writing to the attorneys' request. In their brief, the attorneys quoted the prosecution as telling them in a telephone conversation, "We request an urgent meeting on the matter this week in the presence of both sides and the witness, Talansky." The Justice Ministry spokesman indicated Tuesday that the prosecution would countenance a delay of a day or two in the date of the hearing, but did not want to speculate on what it would do if the lawyers asked for more time than that. The prosecution also has a problem in that Talansky has agreed to remain in Israel until Monday, May 26, but insists on returning home that night because his wife is ailing and he has business affairs to tend to at home. The lawyers indicated that the state could allow Talansky to leave now, since he has promised to return for his grandson's wedding on June 11. During a High Court hearing on Monday, Talansky's lawyer, Jacques Chen, made a similar suggestion and said his client was ready to leave behind a substantial financial guarantee that he would return. However, the state has refused to let Talansky leave Israel for fear that he will not return to testify against Olmert, his friend for the past 15 years. Indeed, during Monday's hearing, State Attorney Moshe Lador flatly rejected Chen's suggestion. According to the lawyers, the investigation material compiled by the police, which they will have to study before the pre-trial testimony, fills 20 large files. They received three of them on Tuesday night. The prosecution informed them on Wednesday that it was photocopying another 15. They will be able to pick up the last two following Olmert's questioning by police, which is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m.