Olmert cuts ties with brother in Holyland testimony, says he was unaware of payoff

Former PM's second day of testimony underway in corruption trial; says his brother Yossi lied to protect himself only.

Olmert in court 370 (photo credit: Pool/Yediot)
Olmert in court 370
(photo credit: Pool/Yediot)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert rejected all allegations of corruption during his second day of testimony in the Holyland trial Tuesday.
At one point during the proceedings, Judge David Rozen accused Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken of being dishonest about whether she had gotten funds from the state’s main witness as a bribe for Olmert, or for herself.
Rozen said that she had been “lying, or – excuse me – not telling the truth.”
Olmert’s lawyer Ro’i Blechner had been asking a series of wide-ranging questions in order to plug ancillary holes in the case, when he indirectly referenced Zaken’s statements to police while reading through various transcripts.
Addressing the statements, Olmert acknowledged that he had “noted a ‘change’ in her story,” but defended Zaken, saying that she had been “under pressure.” Rozen responded, “So you are saying, you agree that she lied, but we should excuse her because it was under pressure?” Earlier, the former prime minister denied having any connection to bribes which his brother Yossi had received.
The state’s main witness, Shmuel Duchner, who died in March, had said in his testimony earlier this year that he had given Yossi NIS 500,000 at Olmert’s request.
Yossi himself gave muddled testimony about the incident in May, hurting his brother’s case and prompting the prosecution to claim that he lied for his brother.
In Olmert’s testimony, he distanced himself from his brother. “Yossi tried to defend one person, himself, not me. He has caused me great pain,” the former prime minister said Tuesday.
He claimed he had no idea of any connection between Duchner and his brother, attacking the state’s main witness as a “pathological liar, which he himself admitted in court.”
Regarding lies told by his brother during testimony, Olmert said that on one point Yossi had remained consistent: that the former prime minister “did not know Yossi was getting money from Duchner.”
The state had claimed that US businessman Morris Talansky, the state’s star witness in the separate Jerusalem corruption trial against Olmert, gave Yossi $30,000 at Olmert’s request. The former prime minister denied his involvement in the matter, and rejected the accusation that he had repeatedly offered financial aid to his brother through third parties, while being careful not to leave a personal “footprint.”
Olmert told the court that Talansky was close to him, and had legitimately given him money for 11 years, and that therefore the “small matter of $30,000” given to his brother was not something he would be informed of.
He said it would have been “perfectly legal” for Talansky to give his brother money, because Talansky was a US citizen who had “nothing to gain” from Olmert, whereas Duchner would have been looking for Olmert’s help in advancing the Holyland real estate project.
Next, Olmert spoke about what he referred to as attempts by Duchner, prior to the case, to extort money out of him and other defendants in the case to secure Duchner’s commitment not to go to the authorities.
He recounted how Holyland investor Avigdor Kellner had met with him and tried to convince him to pay large funds to Duchner to keep him quiet.
Olmert said he had told Kellner that “I never received a penny” from Duchner and that paying him would just make “me look guilty.” He added that “Duchner could do whatever he wanted,” but Olmert would not pay him anything.
Asked why he did not complain to the police about Duchner’s alleged extortion, he said that “at first, I wanted to” but that his lawyer Eli Zohar advised him not to, due to the many ongoing investigations against him and the hostile posture which the police was taking against him.
Olmert was also cross-examined by the prosecution, which tried to box him in by juxtaposing a prior statement to police that he did not see Duchner often, with evidence that Olmert invited Duchner to more events – including family events – than other project managers that Olmert said he was close with.
Olmert responded to the allegations by arguing that each event had many invitees and that simply inviting Duchner did not prove that they were close or that he had taken bribes.
The prosecution also pressed Olmert to explain why he denied receiving political contributions from Duchner, when Zaken admitted that Olmert received them and knew about it.
Olmert said that he had not remembered the fact until he was shown documentary proof, and that the amounts were so small – in the thousands of shekels, not the millions that Duchner claimed – as to be insignificant.