Olmert: I never met Talansky on day of alleged bribe

It’s all an invention, says former PM, also dismissing idea that recommending friend’s product was a conflict of interest.

Olmert at trial (photo credit: Dudi Vaknin)
Olmert at trial
(photo credit: Dudi Vaknin)
Thursday’s testimony in the Olmert case dealt mostly with alleged meetings between the former prime minister and US businessman Moshe Talansky, meetings in which the state claims Talansky gave money to the former prime minister.
Olmert has been testifying before the Jerusalem District court for the last three weeks, answering charges over his alleged involvement in three main corruption affairs. In the first case, dubbed the Rishon Tours affair, Olmert was accused of double-billing philanthropic organizations for his travel expenses and using the excess funds to sponsor flight tickets for his family and upgrades for himself.
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The former prime minister also faces allegations of wrong-doing in the running of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry’s Investment Center. Olmert was accused by the state attorney’s office of favoring business clients of his friend and former partner Uri Messer, who applied to the Investment Center for state grants and other benefits.
Olmert is also accused of having received hundreds of thousands of dollars, in cash, from US businessman Moshe Talansky in what’s been dubbed “the cash envelopes affair.”
According to the indictment, Talansky gave Olmert the money as a personal loan, money that Olmert allegedly stashed away without reporting to the tax authority.
In one instance, Olmert was accused of receiving $15,000 from Talansky in a meeting in New York in November 2005. In his testimony Thursday, Talansky said Olmert had met with him in his hotel room in the morning and asked Talansky to give him $15,000 in cash. Talansky said he went to the bank that morning, withdrew the money and gave it to Olmert.
Olmert rejected the claims outright.
He said he didn’t meet with Talansky at all during that trip and therefore never received the money.
“I didn’t receive a cent, never mind $15,000. This man didn’t see me on this trip, didn’t give me money, never spoke to me about the Likud primaries, I never asked him for money… nothing. It is an invention from start to finish,” Olmert said.
The defense lawyers presented the court with evidence, including bank records and hotel phone records, claiming it was impossible that the two men had met, despite the fact that the meeting was included in Olmert’s schedule for the day.
The defense claimed that the meeting was arranged without Olmert’s knowledge as he was on the plane at the time the meeting was scheduled.
“Talansky called Rachel Raz Rizby [Olmert’s aide] to set up a meeting. I didn’t know about it because the fax was sent while I was on the plane on the way to New York,” said Olmert.
“When I saw it on the itinerary the next day, I tried calling him [Talansky] to cancel it.”
According to Talansky’s testimony, after his morning meting with Olmert, he walked the four blocks from the hotel to the bank, withdrew the money and returned to hand it to Olmert. But the defense said such a scenario was impossible given the time frame.
The defense presented the court with Talansky’s bank documents indicating that Talansky had withdrawn the money, $15,000, at 10:29, first $1,500 and ten minutes later $13,500.
“I suggest you look at the hotel phone records, which show that I only reached Talansky at 10:04… It is impossible to get from his office in Long Island to the hotel, to speak to me and to walk to the bank and withdraw the money, all in 25 minutes, even if he came by helicopter,” said Olmert.
The former prime minister said that Talansky’s recollection of the meeting was a figment of his imagination and that they didn’t meet at all in that trip. In a later testimony before the police, Talansky himself said that he got confused and that the meetings had not taken place.
Olmert also denied Talansky’s claims that the money he transferred to Olmert was a loan and that he had tried to retrieve it and was referred to Olmert’s son Shaul, who lived and worked in the US.
Olmert claimed that he had never referred Talansky to his son and that as far as he knew, the only meeting that ever took place between the two, had occurred six months earlier and had to do with a professional matter Talansky sought assistance with from Shaul Olmert.
“Talansky never talked to me about repaying loans and I never referred him to my son. My son never told me that Talansky had asked him to return a loan. He will testify to that effect,” said Olmert. “The whole thing is an invention by Talansky.”
Olmert’s lawyers suggested that Talansky had made up the meetings with Olmert and used them as an alibi for unrelated financial wrongdoings.
On the given day that Talansky had allegedly given Olmert the money, the bank records indicate that Talansky deposited $10,000 into the same account he had made a withdrawal from.
In another instance, Olmert denied receiving $72,000 from Talansky in 2003.
In previous testimonies, Olmert said that the only funds he had received from Talansky was $40,000 to pay for his legal expenses in 1996.
In the afternoon session of testimony, Olmert responded to the state’s accusations that, as industry, trade and labor minister between 2003- 2006, he had aided Talansky in his mini-bar business ventures, aid which the prosecution presented as a conflict of interest, verging on bribery, in light of their financial relationship.
“I reject the claim that I aided Talansky while in conflict of interest.
I think it is an artificial attempt to create a link between his transfers and my actions. The truth was, I made minor efforts to aid Talansky in his business dealings. But the aid was in no way unique or exceptional. It is something I did hundreds of times for people I know and people I didn’t know,” said Olmert.
Olmert said that aiding businesses was part of his job description as industry, trade and labor minister.
“I define the Israeli industry, trade and labor minister’s role as responsible for aiding and advocating for Israeli businesses in order to help exports for the benefit of the national economy, and that’s exactly what I did,” said Olmert. “I’m proud of it.”
“I think the common practice, which I didn’t invent, was to aid the Israeli industry. One way of doing that is by connecting Israeli manufacturers with investors and buyers from abroad,” Olmert said.
“In every one of my trips abroad, I’d take Israeli businessmen with me.
It was a logistical effort, but it was important for me to be involved.”
In order to establish Olmert’s aid to businesspeople as a common pattern, the defense team presented the court with 20 examples of instances that Olmert used his position to advance Israeli business interests abroad.
The defense said it had copies of 15 binders full of recommendation letters that Olmert had written.
“I don’t remember the specific meeting when the mini-bars first came up,” said Olmert. “He told me that the invention was patented by the Israeli Technology College and I thought it merited some attention as an Israeli product that could be sold abroad.”
The defense presented a letter by Olmert to a US company recommending Talansky’s mini-bar venture.
“I recommended to [ACC Capital Holdings owner] Roland Arnall to meet with Talansky, but I never held a joint meeting with them,” Olmert said. He added that he also made a second recommendation to Jewish hotel mogul Sheldon Edelson to see if he was interested in Talansky’s mini-bar patent for his hotel chains.
“After all was said and done, all I did was write one letter and made one phone call that benefited Talansky.
The fact that someone is my friend does not mean that I have to refrain from assisting them if they have an Israeli product that can be sold abroad,” said Olmert.
“In Talansky’s case, I may have blundered, but I firmly believed in what I was doing as a general practice.”
When asked if an approach by a high-ranking government minister didn’t constitute undue intervention obligating the recipients to comply, Olmert said that judging by the outcome, it didn’t.
“Since nothing came from my recommendations, I don’t owe them anything,” said Olmert. “Apparently, they didn’t see my recommendations as something that obligated them to do anything either. I would have been happy had my approach to Edelson on Talansky’s behalf been accepted, but it wasn’t,” he said.
Olmert concluded the day’s hearing testifying about the third main charge of his indictment, concerning allegations of wrongdoing in the running of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry’s Investment Center.
Olmert’s primary testimony is expected to be concluded next week, after which the state will begin its cross-examination. Hearings are scheduled to continue at least until the middle of July, when the court goes on its summer break.