Olmert grilled in court over Rishon Tours

Former PM denies knowledge of a debt of $17,000 to travel agency that the prosecution says he owed at the end of 2002.

Olmert arriving at trial 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Olmert arriving at trial 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The cross-examination of former prime minister Ehud Olmert continued on Thursday in the Jerusalem District Court, as the prosecutor’s questions focused on the socalled Rishon Tours affair.
Olmert is accused of double- and sometimes triple-billing charities and a government office for flights booked via the Rishon Tours travel agency, and using the surplus money to pay for flights and upgrades for family members.
The prosecution says it has identified 17 such trips that took place during Olmert’s term as prime minister.
His travel coordinator, Rachel Rizby-Raz, has also been indicted in connection with the affair, on charges that include fraud. She is also accused of assisting Olmert’s former aide, Shula Zaken, in the alleged fraud.
Olmert has denied any direct involvement in the double- billing, but conceded to the court last month that that there may have been mistakes made in the payments for his flights, while rejecting claims that he had knowingly swindled nonprofit organizations.
In Thursday’s cross-examination, Jerusalem deputy state attorney Uri Korb questioned Olmert over why he had asked Rizby-Raz to book personal travel arrangements through Rishon Tours.
Korb told the court that Rishon Tours had paid NIS 80,000 for Olmert’s overseas trips, and presented documents that he said show that in 2005 Rizby-Raz had taken NIS 23,000 from Rishon Tours to pay for flights for Olmert’s wife, Aliza, including to South Korea.
Korb also asked why Olmert had not instructed Risby Raz to pay Rishon Tours from his personal account.
“Why would your travel office pay for trips that weren’t connected with it?” Korb asked.
The former prime minister said that he had thought the balance of his account would have been covered by extensive air miles accumulated during numerous first-class flights overseas.
In testimony to the court in June, Olmert had maintained that Zaken would inform him whenever he owed Rishon Tours money and that he believed he had paid for his private trips. He also stated that he believed his family was eligible to fly using air miles.
In Thursday’s cross-examination, Korb put to Olmert that he had known that there had been a surplus of thousands of dollars created by double-billing organizations, and that Zaken had known about it.
Olmert denied this.
He also denied knowledge of a debt of $17,000 to Rishon Tours that the prosecution says he owed at the end of 2002, and maintained that he does not recall Zaken telling him about it.
The prosecution’s claims are “pure speculation, not connected to any evidence,” Olmert said.