Police want PM questioned in 48 hours

Report: Decision made to preempt Talansky testimony; Court to hear appeals against testimony.

Olmert worried 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Olmert worried 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The National Fraud Agency is demanding that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert undergo another, urgent round of questioning in the next 48 hours regarding suspicions that he illegally accepted large sums of cash from New York Jewish businessman Morris Talansky, Channel 2 reported on Friday. According to the report, investigators fear that once Olmert and his attorneys receive a transcript of Talansky's early testimony, the content of that transcript would somehow influence what the premier would later say during questioning. Therefore, the police want Olmert questioned before Talansky takes the stand. Talansky is due to testify in court on Sunday, May 25. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will hold a hearing Monday on appeals filed Thursday by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his close aide, Shula Zaken, asking the court to reject a lower court decision that ordered New York Jewish businessman Morris Talansky to testify in court even though the state has not yet decided whether to put the two on trial. Justice Salim Joubran, who scheduled Monday's hearing, also rejected the request of Olmert's lawyers to immediately freeze the lower court's decision to hear Talansky's early testimony. Olmert is suspected of illegally accepting large sums of cash from Talansky. Zaken allegedly knew about the gifts and received some of them on Olmert's behalf. Talansky lives full-time in the US, but two of his children live in Israel, and he owns a home in Jerusalem and visits the country twice a year. On May 9, the Jerusalem District Court accepted the state's argument that if Talansky were allowed to leave Israel now, it was not certain he would return to testify if the state prosecution ultimately indicts Olmert and Zaken. In Olmert's appeal, his lawyers, Eli Zohar, Ro'i Blecher and Nevot Tel-Tzur, wrote that the state's request to hear the early testimony was "unprecedented" as Talansky was a suspect in the investigation and had been questioned by police under caution. "As such," the lawyers wrote, "the means for forcing him to obey [a court summons] that can be put into effect to guarantee his return to Israel are very strong and effective." The district court, the attorneys continued, "did not take into account [Talansky's] repeatedly declared intention to return to Israel to testify should it be decided to file an indictment, or the witnesses' circumstances, including the fact that he owns an apartment in Israel, that most of his family lives here and that he has routinely come to Israel twice a year for many years." The lawyers added that the state could insure that Talansky returned by making him leave a financial guarantee behind or, if he did not return, either take testimony from him in the US or have him testify by closed circuit television. The attorneys also argued that the early testimony harmed Olmert's right to a fair trial, for the following reasons: • The prime minister does not know what the specific charges against him will be if the state decides to indict. • He will not receive all of the evidence that police have gathered so far. • The police are continuing to gather evidence that his lawyers will not have when they question Talansky. • The state prosecution may continue to question Talansky after he testifies. • Olmert's lawyers will not have enough time to prepare their cross-examination. • Talansky is currently a suspect. It is not known at this point whether he is testifying as a witness or as a defendant. Zaken's lawyer, Micha Fetman, filed a separate appeal on Thursday. The appeals are due to be heard together. A Jewish-American billionaire who was questioned by police in the corruption case on Thursday said he has never given money to the prime minister and called suggestions of any wrongdoing "insulting." S. Daniel Abraham, a philanthropist who made his fortune as founder of Slim-Fast food products, was summoned by police this week to discuss his ties with Olmert. Police suspect Olmert accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal donations in the US, either for campaign financing or as bribes. "Of course I never gave any money to Ehud Olmert. The very question is insulting to me," Abraham told Army Radio. "This is my reputation at stake and I have no reason to risk it." Abraham, a strong supporter of Israel who is in the country during its 60th anniversary celebrations, said Olmert is honest and "one of the best prime ministers we have ever had." Also related to the Olmert affair, Channel 2 news reported Thursday night that the limousine driver for Talansky transferred envelopes containing cash to the prime minister. According to the report, the driver told police that he had given the prime minister the packages, which contained money from several "millionaires," including Abraham.