Talansky to testify against Olmert in Holyland trial

Along with 15 other defendants accused of bribery and fraud, Olmert is accused of receiving millions of shekels in bribes.

Talansky pouting 311 (photo credit: Israel Jerozolimski)
Talansky pouting 311
(photo credit: Israel Jerozolimski)
The state attorney announced on Tuesday that Morris Talansky, the witness who toppled former prime minister Ehud Olmert, will testify against him in the Holyland trial before Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen on Sunday.
Along with 15 other defendants accused of bribery and fraud, Olmert is accused of receiving millions of shekels in bribes in the Tel Aviv case.
Talansky, an American citizen, was the main witness against Olmert in the Jerusalem corruption trial that ended with a general acquittal in July 2012 and is on appeal before the Supreme Court for July 2013.
Talansky testified on behalf of the state that Olmert had received large sums of cash from him in envelopes that Olmert did not report.
The Jerusalem District Court ultimately acquitted Olmert in the Talansky Affair, criticizing him heavily and finding that he had received envelopes of cash, but also deciding that prosecutors failed to prove the requisite level of intent for a conviction.
Although Olmert was not convicted in the Talansky Affair, an unusual procedure in which Talansky testified prior to Olmert being indicted forced the former prime minister to resign much earlier than he might have had to otherwise.
Olmert was convicted only of breach of public trust in the more minor Investment Affair.
Unlike the Jerusalem corruption trial, Talansky is not the main witness in the Holyland case.
Moreover, while he had always been listed theoretically as a witness, until Tuesday no one had received any sign that he would be willing to testify in the case.
Israel could not have compelled Talansky to testify since he lives in the US and is not an Israeli citizen.
The state’s press release was ambiguous about how far in advance the testimony had been planned.
While the release said that Talansky was “on the witness list” and was “not a new witness,” it also said that he came to Israel for a visit for unrelated reasons.
Next, the statement said that “once the prosecution learned of his visit, it requested that the court summon him to testify.”
According to the statement, Talansky is already in Israel and arrived “a few days ago.” The state appeared to suggest that room was made for Talansky to testify by happenstance – namely, that the main Holyland witness, referred to only as S.D. under a gag order, was hospitalized on Monday, and that while he would return on Sunday, he would testify for only a few hours.
The shorter-than-expected testimony from S.D. left room for Talansky, who will testify in the early afternoon immediately after S.D. finishes.
It was unclear what Talansky would testify to as he was not directly involved in the Holyland project.
Yet media reports speculated that the state would use him to try to show a pattern of Olmert’s conduct in questionable business dealings, claiming that allegedly problematic conduct with Talansky shows his disputed conduct in the Holyland trial was criminal.
If so, it could be a high stakes strategy as the court in the Jerusalem corruption trial find Talansky’s testimony highly questionable and inconsistent, while accepting specific aspects of his narrative.
Amir Dan, Olmert’s spokesman, responded to the news, saying: “Five years ago the head state prosecutor appeared before the court and depicted a horror show in which Talansky would go and disappear and would never return to Israel. This declaration was what justified the exceptional procedure of pretrial testimony, which led to the stepping down of an Israeli prime minister.”
Dan added that Talansky’s “return to testify” shows that “there was nothing” behind the prosecution’s claims and that these claims led to “a change in the State of Israel’s government for nothing.”