Talansky denies claims he bribed Olmert

Says he "never thought" money he gave PM was illegal; "It's very, very confusing," he says.

talansky 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
talansky 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Morris Talansky, the central figure in the new investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, "emphatically denies" that he bribed Olmert. In an interview to Channel 10 news on Sunday, the 75-year-old businessman from Woodmere, New York, said he "never thought in any way that the money that I gave him - it was for the purpose of his becoming mayor or electioneering - was in any way illegal or wrong. He was not the only one who came to America to ask for money for the election campaign, and so I thought it was legal." Confronted with allegations that he had bribed the prime minister, the Long Island financier said: "I emphatically deny that I had in my mind any business in Israel. It never crossed my mind to do business here. I don't own any land, I don't own any buildings, I don't own any factories, I never built anything here... never, never was that my purpose. I have one apartment [in Jerusalem], that's all I had." "Check all of the records," he said. "I don't have now and I never had. Nothing, nothing, I don't have [anything] here." Talansky also provided religious reasoning to back up this statement, saying that his purpose in providing Olmert with money was binyan ha'aretz, to build the Land of Israel. "It would have been a desecration, hilul hashem, if that was my intention [to gain something from it]," he said. "[Olmert] was the prince of the Likud. He was going to be mayor [of Jerusalem]. He was a man that was respected, and I respected him, too, like everybody else... That's why we helped him," he said. Talansky explained that he had assumed the money would go to Olmert's election campaign. "I haven't heard any different to this point and I really don't know anymore. It is very, very confusing. I have been in a state of questions and I don't know." Talansky shrugged off reports in the media over the weekend that he had told investigators he feared Olmert would send someone to hurt him. "Oh forget it, that's ridiculous. It's not serious," he said. He also laughed when questioned on rumors that he was part of a right-wing conspiracy against Olmert. "Well, I have heard very funny stories in my life, but that's the most comical one. I'm not part of a conspiracy... [It's] absolutely untrue." Talansky said he was cooperating with police and was telling them the truth. "I have absolutely nothing to cover or to hide," he said. Meanwhile, the National Fraud Unit is focusing on discovering what, if anything, Olmert did in exchange for the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received from Talansky, the Israel Police's former chief investigator said on Sunday. Cmdr. (ret.) Yosef Sedbon said the unit was "only at the start of the road." Fraud Unit chief Lt.-Cmdr. Shlomo Ayalon and his team of investigators, together with the current Israel Police head of investigations, Cmdr. Yohanan Danino, have reached the second stage of their investigation, and are looking to see if "Olmert helped the person who gave him money," Sedbon said. Talansky covered Olmert's hotel tab in 2005, when he stayed overnight at the Washington Ritz-Carlton hotel, The New York Times reported on Sunday. A mini-bar company that caters to hotels paid the $4,717 bill after being ordered to do so by Talansky, the Times said. A lawyer representing the company confirmed the payment, but said he was unsure whether Olmert knew who had paid for his visit. Sedbon described the media reports and "leaks" of information from the case as largely "inaccurate," saying "some reports are little more than disinformation. If you examine them, there is no real information in them." The leaks came from lawyers involved in the case and associates of witnesses and suspects, he said. "These are people who have an interest in the outcome of the investigation," he said. Also Sunday, the Hebrew-language NRG Web site said Uri Messer, a former law partner and a longtime close associate of the prime minister, told police investigators he "transferred envelopes containing a lot of money to Ehud Olmert." According to the report, Messer passed on a great deal of information to police on how political donations were handled, confirming that most of the funds arrived in the form of cash in envelopes. A National Fraud Unit spokeswoman denied that the report came from the police. "You can't imagine how tightly we are guarding the secrecy of the investigation," she said. A court-ordered media ban on the details of the investigation is still partially in place. During a public appearance on Sunday night, Olmert pointedly projected a business-as-usual attitude, and suggested that movement in the negotiations with the Palestinians was within reach. "There is nothing that we want to do more than achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians," Olmert told the Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael-Jewish National Fund international leadership conference in Jerusalem, where he was warmly received. "I am committed to move forward with peace talks and to reach an understanding with the Palestinians... and we will do something that will make it move forward," Olmert said. "I am certain we will make a step, maybe not the final step." The prime minister avoided all mention of the bribery investigation save for a fleeting satirical comment. "I know that some in the media here are expecting me to make a political statement for some strange reason," he said to laughter in the crowd. "The true politics of the country is the day to day work of millions of people who love this place, [and] are ready to defend this place and invest in the growth and expansion of the Israeli economy," he said. Etgar Lefkovitz contributed to this report.