PM to fight Talansky's early testimony

Olmert to appeal ruling of J'lem court to High Court; ruling had agreed that witness not return for trial.

olmert talansky (2) 224 (photo credit: Channel 10)
olmert talansky (2) 224
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trying to prevent New York Jewish businessman Morris Talansky from being questioned in the investigation of alleged illegal payments to the prime minister. Talansky is currently visiting Israel. The lawyers representing Olmert and his former aide, Shula Zaken, are due on Sunday to ask the Supreme Court for permission to appeal against a Jerusalem District Court decision granting the state's request to question Talansky, Zaken's lawyer, Micha Fetman, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday. Talansky, who was paid to raise donations for Israeli nonprofit institutions, is suspected of paying to or collecting large sums of money for Olmert over 15 years. The Jerusalem District Court decision to allow state prosecutors to question Talansky and for the suspects' lawyers, Eli Zohar and Fetman, to cross-examine him, was handed down on Friday. At the same time, the court rejected the prosecution's request to hold the hearing behind closed doors, ruling that the public's right to know and freedom of the press overrode all other considerations. The court did not set a date for Talansky's hearing but said it would let the parties know "soon." Should the Supreme Court reject their request to appeal the lower court's decision, or reject the appeal itself, Zohar and Fetman will demand to see all of the evidence gathered by police so far, and not only the evidence gleaned from the questioning of Talansky. Police have also questioned Zaken, and Olmert's close friend and one-time law partner, Uri Messer. According to media reports, Messer's testimony may have been damaging to Olmert and there has even been speculation that Olmert's friend of 30 years will turn state's witness against him. During his address to the nation on Thursday night following the partial lifting of the Tel Aviv District Court-ordered publication ban on the new investigation against him, Olmert said he had relied on Messer, who was his personal attorney, to make sure the money he received from or via Talansky was handled legally. Political observers interpreted the comment as indicating that the two friends had turned against each other. On Saturday night, a Justice Ministry spokesman said that at present, the state did not intend to try to overturn the Jerusalem District Court decision to hold the questioning of Talansky in open court. Channel 10 News reported that if the hearing is to be held in public, the police would question Olmert a second time before the hearing. A panel of three judges - court president Moussia Arad and judges Zvi Zylbertal and Moshe Sobel - accepted the state's argument that Talansky would likely not return to testify at Olmert's trial should Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz decide to indict the prime minister. The judges also said Talansky might turn out to be a defendant rather than a witness in such a trial. "When we are talking about a witness who is to give testimony in a criminal trial against a person with whom he had a positive relationship for 15 years, the desire to avoid the unpleasantness involved in coming to Israel for that purpose is [strong]," the court wrote. "Furthermore, when it comes to giving testimony regarding illegal activities in which the witness himself is allegedly involved, it is not unreasonable to assume that he will avoid coming to Israel, both because no one is happy about describing his part in illegal activities and also out of fear that he himself will be indicted." Meanwhile, in a joint interview with Newsweek and The Washington Post published on Saturday, Olmert ruled out resigning at this juncture, saying it would be a mistake. "I don't really see that this will bring any better outcome for the country at this point,'" the prime minister argued. "Not that a person is indispensable or irreplaceable... But given the circumstances right now, I think it will not do good that I step down at this point." The interview, which was published on-line, was conducted before Olmert's statement on Thursday night that he would step down if indicted by the attorney-general. The prime minister told Newsweek he would have to think carefully about the ramifications of an early retirement. "I was not born to be prime minister, and I'm not going to stay here until the end of my life. I'm too young for that. Right now, I think it will be a mistake [to leave], and I have a job to accomplish, a vision to realize." Olmert stressed that his desire to see through current peace efforts was a key factor in his decision to stay on. "This is the great vision of peace, which I think is possible this time more than ever," he said.