State: If PM charged, Messer may testify

PM's lawyers to appeal to the Supreme Court on decision to permit cross-examination Talansky.

supreme court 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
supreme court 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The lawyers representing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his aide of 30 years, Shula Zaken, will appeal to the Supreme Court on Thursday against the Jerusalem District Court decision to permit the examination and cross-examination of NY financier Morris Talansky, Zaken's lawyer, Micha Fetman, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. Talansky, who reportedly gave Olmert hundreds of thousands of dollars between 1993 and 2006, is a key witness in the latest police investigation of the prime minister and his aide. Also on Wednesday, Jerusalem District Court judges Moussia Arad, Zvi Zylbertal and Moshe Sobel decided that Talansky's hearing would be held on May 25, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If the time allotted proved insufficient, the court would continue hearing Talansky's testimony in the following days. The hearing will be a trial procedure, even though the state is still investigating the allegations against Olmert and Zaken and has not yet decided whether to indict them. The district court on Wednesday also released the transcript of the May 6 hearing on the state's request to examine and cross-examine Talansky, except for two segments that it barred from publication. The state is considering using Olmert's longtime close friend and private attorney, Uri Messer, as a witness for the prosecution if Olmert is indicted, the transcript revealed. According to Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel, "we considered the material at this point in time and in accordance with it, we can surmise with caution that if an indictment is filed, it will possibly be filed against the two respondents in this hearing [Olmert and Zaken] and, possibly, separately against Messer. This is because of what Messer said during his questioning by police. He may also testify as a witness for the prosecution against Olmert." According to reports, Zaken gave some of the money that Olmert received from Talansky to Messer. However, Messer reportedly told police he did not know who had given the money to Olmert or what it was for, and that he had later given the money back to Olmert. In explaining to the court why Messer was not included with Olmert and Zaken as a suspect, Abarbanel said, "It is not always the case that a person who is not included as a defendant in an indictment because the prosecution thinks he played a marginal role is necessarily the one who bears most of the responsibility [for the crime], and I have already heard such insinuations in this courtroom. Our decision [not to include Messer] is totally objective and totally practical. At this point in time, it seems that the central figure in this affair is Olmert, and no one will succeed in turning things upside down. "According to the suspicions, he was the one who received the money, he used it, he asked for it. He is a senior public servant, a minister. The fact that the bills were handed over to him is the most serious element [of the alleged crime], so there is no way to compare others to him," Abarbanel said. The police's National Fraud Unit has put Zaken and Messer on short notice of an impending joint interrogation in connection with the new criminal investigation into the prime minister, Israel Radio reported on Wednesday. Zaken, who has reportedly exercised her right to remain silent, is suspected of illegally handling a large quantity of cash from Talansky, while Messer is said to have been the final recipient of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in question. Talansky, who was interrogated on Monday evening at the Fraud Unit's Bat Yam headquarters, is being treated as both a witness and a suspect, according to a newly revealed document from the Jerusalem District Court. A senior source said that if such a joint interrogation were to take place, its purpose could be to pressure Zaken into ending her silence. "First, Zaken and Messer have to agree to be questioned together," the source explained. "This can aid the investigation because the police can see how one party either defends or attacks the other, which increases the chances of the truth emerging," the source added. "If Zaken continues to remain silent, and Messer speaks, he could convince her to begin talking," the source said. "Messer could tell Zaken she is wrong to remain silent, if he agrees to do this." Meanwhile, in his argument to convince the court to approve the examination and cross-examination of Talansky, State Attorney Moshe Lador said there was a chance that, if allowed to return to the US, Talansky would not return to Israel to testify, should the prosecution ultimately indict Olmert. "We would not want to find ourselves in another couple of months without a key witness," Lador said. He also explained why Talansky was a key witness. "There is going to be a big difference of opinion between the testimony of Talansky and Olmert," he told the court. Fetman and Olmert's lawyers, Eli Zohar and Ro'i Blecher, asked the Jerusalem District Court to hold another hearing on the state's request to question Talansky, on the grounds that they had new information. However, the court rejected their request. Observers said Zohar, Blecher and Fetman would try to delay the investigation so the public would lose interest, and to give Olmert as much time as possible.