Olmert's lawyers: We'll unravel Talansky testimony

Talansky  media 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Talansky media 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's lawyers on Thursday morning began five days of pre-trial cross-examination of Morris Talansky, one of the prosecution's key witnesses in the allegation that Olmert received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the American Jewish backer and other donors. "Today, the cracks in the version of the police and the state prosecution will be revealed and the public will come to understand that they are attempting to topple a prime minister in office on the basis of unchecked fragments of facts," said Olmert's communications adviser, Amir Dan. "As far as Talansky is concerned, we have only one aim in mind and that is that he speak the truth." According to one source, during his testimony in the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on May 27, Talansky came across as a reliable and grandfatherly witness. However, Olmert's lawyers, who during the past month-and-a-half have studied all the investigative material, know that the facts Talansky presented were false and that he was not the person he appeared to be during his first day of questioning, the source said. Thursday's hearing, like that of May 27, is not a trial hearing. The police have not completed their investigation, and the state has not indicted the prime minister. However, after the investigation became public the state insisted that Talansky give testimony while he was still in Israel, for fear that if allowed to leave, he would refuse to return to testify if the prosecution did eventually decide to indict the prime minister. If Olmert is indicted over the Talansky affair, the pre-trial testimony will become part of the trial proceedings. In his pre-trial testimony, Talansky told the court that he had contributed $150,000 in cash to Olmert over 10 years to help defray the costs of his political campaigns. He had also delivered to Olmert tens of thousands of dollars given by American Jews who had either attended benefits for Olmert's political campaigns or had contributed money to upgrade the plane tickets and hotels that Olmert used when he came to the US to raise money on behalf of Israeli or American Jewish organizations. Talansky also said that Olmert had borrowed a total of at least $19,000 from him on two occasions and had not paid him back. In another case, Talansky gave Olmert $3,000 to upgrade his plane ticket and hotel for an appearance at the World Forum in Denver. Perhaps the most damning incident of all had to do with the mysterious transfer of more than $200,000 to Olmert's lawyer, Uri Messer, in 1999, the year after Olmert's second successful campaign for mayor of Jerusalem. The sums included $100,000 on October 21, 1999, paid out of Israel Development Ltd., a company that Talansky owned but said had been inactive for 10 years. Three more transfers, of $60,000, $50,000 and £25,000, were made on June 22, 1999. Talansky told the court he had not signed the transfer papers and knew nothing about them. He also said he did know that there was any money left with the Israel Development Ltd. or another Israeli-based company he owned, Linton Lake, neither of which had ever been active. Talansky hinted that he thought Messer might have transferred the money without telling him. He said he had given Messer power of attorney when he purchased a home in Jerusalem and could not remember whether the power of attorney had been restricted to the sale of the house or not. Talansky also told the court that Messer had, indeed, asked him to put up $300,000 as a guarantee against debts that Olmert's party might accrue during the 1998 mayoralty election. Talansky said he had refused to do so and gotten angry at Messer. However, Messer later asked him to write a letter to Olmert that was based on a lie. According to the letter, Talansky acknowledged that Bank Leumi had liquidated a security deposit he had provided to guarantee the overdraft that Olmert's party had made to finance the campaign. Talansky said he had protested, saying he had not given a security deposit, but signed the letter anyway. It is not clear whether the mysterious money transfers to Messer went to cover the overdraft.