PM's lawyer stressed over probe

Olmert's Confidante Uri Messer hires consulting firm to deal with the media following Talansky affair.

messer 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
messer 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Uri Messer, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's close friend for 30 years and his personal lawyer, hired a private consulting firm on Sunday to deal with the media, which has renewed its interest in him because of the Talansky affair. His file is being handled by the Tel Aviv-based Rimon-Cohen-Shinkman Company. Messer is a suspect in a police investigation into allegations that Olmert, when he served as industry, trade and labor minister, intervened in the decisions of the Investment Center in favor of entrepreneurs represented by Messer. The Investment Center provides grants to companies wishing to build new industrial projects in Israel. Now Messer is also involved in the latest investigation against Olmert, who is suspected of having accepted gifts allegedly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from American-Jewish fundraiser and businessman Morris Talansky. Messer has already been questioned by police under caution on this matter. He is suspected of having transferred some of the money from Talansky to Olmert. In a speech to the nation on Thursday night after the Tel Aviv District Court partially lifted the gag order on details of the new investigation, Olmert tried to shift responsibility for the affair to Messer, saying that his lawyer had been responsible for seeing to it that the gifts were handled according to the law. According to reports over the past few days, Messer has been suffering severe emotional stress because of the investigations. He was photographed last week walking along the barrier between the north- and southbound lanes of the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, trying to hail a taxi to take him back to Jerusalem. According to one report, he had "disappeared" for several hours before being spotted and photographed in Tel Aviv. Even before the latest allegations against Olmert, Messer was known to have been under stress from the Investment Center investigation. When police tried to set a date to question him on that matter, he asked for several postponements, reportedly because he was not feeling well. Police questioning was again postponed after Messer was involved in a traffic accident. The current investigation has apparently been even more difficult for him because his testimony reportedly implicated Olmert directly. The relationship between Olmert and Messer is reminiscent of the one between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his son, Omri, during the 2000 Likud primary election campaign. At that time, Omri Sharon was his father's campaign manager. Ariel Sharon received large sums of money from backers in the US, but the money was not recorded in the official financial records of the campaign. When Ariel Sharon was questioned about the illegal contributions, he said his son had handled the financial matters and that he had no knowledge of the matter. Omri Sharon did not contradict his father and was eventually sentenced to jail. Ariel Sharon was not charged with wrongdoing. But according to a report in the daily Ma'ariv, Messer did not try to protect Olmert. He told police the prime minister had known he was receiving money from Talansky on the prime minister's behalf. But Messer was apparently deeply upset by his testimony, which could potentially lead to an indictment against Olmert, and this has apparently added to his emotional turmoil. In another development, Talansky told Channel 10 News that he had no idea how Olmert had used the money he gave him. Talansky denied that he had bribed Olmert and said he had thought the prime minister was using the money to finance his election campaigns. But he added that he did not know for sure. "I have no first-hand knowledge of what the papers and stories are talking about," he said, referring to the allegations against Olmert. Talansky added that he was cooperating with the police and telling them the truth. "I have absolutely nothing to cover up," he said. Meanwhile, Eli Zohar, Ro'i Blecher and Micha Fetman, the lawyers representing Olmert and his close aide, Shula Zaken, are preparing a request for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court against the Jerusalem District Court decision to allow Talansky to be questioned as if in a courtroom. The lawyers argued that the questioning of Talansky in a courtroom situation would make it seem that Olmert was the defendant in the trial, even though in fact the prosecution had not even decided yet whether or not to indict him. They also claimed that the cross-examination of Talansky would be incomplete, since the investigation was still under way and more facts would be unearthed in the meantime.