Rishontours: Court declares Risby-Raz as hostile witness

Prosecution claimed testimony by ex-Olmert worker contradicted previous statement, after presenting document proving former PM approved billing.

Ehud Olmert 311 (photo credit: Pool/Yediot Aharonot)
Ehud Olmert 311
(photo credit: Pool/Yediot Aharonot)
Not only were many of the major organizations that invited Ehud Olmert to speak double- or triple-billed, but some were billed for more than the actual cost of his airfare, prosecutor Uri Korb charged on Tuesday, in the corruption trial of the former prime minister and his close aide, Shula Zaken.
Korb made the allegation during a dramatic hearing in Jerusalem District Court, in which Rachel Risby-Raz, who was testifying for the prosecution, was declared a hostile witness by the panel of three judges.
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A hostile witness is one who has been called to testify on behalf one side but then weakens that side’s case. When this happens, an attorney for that side can ask the judge to declare the person a hostile witness, which allows the attorney to use methods more common in cross-examinations in order to obtain more favorable testimony.
Korb twice asked the court to declare Risby-Raz a hostile witness on grounds that testimony she had given in court contradicted statements she had made to police two years ago during her interrogation.
The judges rejected Korb’s first request, but an hour later, after the prosecution provided two more examples of contradictions in her testimony, the judges agreed.
Toward the end of the hearing, which lasted almost seven hours, Korb presented Risby-Raz, who headed Olmert’s foreign liaison office and has been indicted separately in this affair, with figures from two of the trips in which the sponsoring organizations had been double-billed.
In the first, Rishontours allegedly charged two organizations for a single first-class ticket. The actual cost to Olmert had been $13,643.
However, one of the organizations, IPF (Israel Policy Forum), was charged $15,626, while the other, Friends of the IDF (FIDF), was charged $10,975.
“If you were going to double-bill for the trip, why didn’t you at least charge them the true price?” Korb asked Risby-Raz, who replied: “As I already said yesterday, there was no relationship between the bill and the [cost of the] trip.”
“Why not?” continued Korb.
“Why, if I were IPF, should I pay more than the cost of the ticket?” At first, Risby-Raz said she could not answer because she did not have the file in front of her. But when the head of the panel, Jerusalem District Court President Moussia Arad, insisted that she answer the question, she replied, “I don’t know.”
Korb added that two women involved in the case had already testified in court about the doublebilling.
One, Roberta Fahn Schoffman, who is associated with the IPF, testified that Risby-Raz had informed her that another organization, FIDF, would be sharing the costs of the hotel because it had also invited Olmert. When Schoffman asked why, if that was the case, they were not sharing the cost of the flight, Risby-Raz allegedly told her, “This is for soldiers.
It isn’t nice to ask them for money.”
When Korb asked whether Risby-Raz remembered this conversation, she replied that she did not.
The other woman, Hagar Tamara, from FIDF, said that a short while before her organization’s event, to which Olmert had been invited, Risby-Raz called and said that he would be able to attend only part of it. She testified that this development bothered her, so she asked why. Risby-Raz replied that it was because Olmert had a second event to attend. Tamara replied that if this were the case, the two organizations should split the cost of the flight. Risby-Raz allegedly told her she would look into it, but in the end, FIDF payed what it had been charged.
Asked by Korb whether she remembered this conversation, Risby-Raz replied that she was doubtful it had ever taken place.
“It’s inconceivable that what Tamara said was not true and the same goes for Roberta Fahn Schoffman,” replied Korb. “It’s the exact same style” in both conversations.
Risby-Raz insisted that she did not lie to Schoffman.
“First of all, she is a good friend,” said Risby-Raz. “Second, it is not my style to lie. Third, I am not sure that what she said was true.”
Korb continued to press. He reminded Risby-Raz that she had previously testified that on some of the trips, the ministry ended up owing Rishontours money. Further, the aim had been to balance income and expenditures on the trips by the end of each year. If that had been the case, said Korb, the office must also have had surpluses to balance the deficits.
Why, he asked Risby-Raz, did she ask for more money than the actual cost of the ticket from some of the organizations? “So it would be fair,” she replied.
“You portrayed a situation to the organizations in which they were paying the true price of the ticket, and deliberately withheld from them the fact that another organization was also paying,” said Korb.
“You were hiding the facts from them.”
To this, Risby-Raz replied: “I believe the organizations knew that there were other organizations involved in the trip.”
Korb presented another example in which the American-Israel Friendship League (AIFL) had been charged more than the price of the ticket. In this case, Olmert flew to New York and Washington on ministry affairs, and also to speak on behalf of the AIFL. The ministry paid for the ticket, the cost of which Risby-Raz assessed at between $6,150 and $6,500. However, AIFL was sent a bill for $9,663.