Olmert Admits for First Time He 'May Have Given' Money to Close Friend

In his trial, former prime minister contradicts statements made during police investigation regarding a secret fund of hundreds of thousands of dollars held by Uri Messer.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted Tuesday for the first time that he may have given money to his close friend Uri Messer. His statement, made during the cross-examination phase of his trial in the Jerusalem District Court, contradicts what he told police during his investigation.

Olmert was indicted in August 2010 on charges of fraud, fraud under aggravating circumstances, falsifying corporate documents, tax evasion and breach of trust and is currently plagued by several corruption-related scandals.

Ehud Olmert
Gili Cohen-Magen

"Do you admit you transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to Shula Zaken so they could be passed to Uri Messer, and some of which you gave him directly?" asked Prosecuting Attorney Uri Korev, referring to his former bureau chief. "I may have given him a contribution," replied Olmert. "I may have passed it on to Messer… I usually gave it to Messer through Shula."

The proceedings continued Tuesday in a tense atmosphere. Attorney Korev confronted Olmert about the contradictions between what he told police and what he testified about in court.

For example, in May 2008 Olmert was asked about financial ties to Messer while he was Industry, Trade and Labor Minister. Olmert repeatedly denied such ties, though at the time Messer kept a safe for Olmert containing hundreds of thousands of dollars, dubbed "the secret register" by the prosecution.

"You are being asked only about a financial bond between you and Messer," Korev asked. "An open, short, clear question, and you reply 'no connection.' Would you agree with me that these answers are incorrect?"

Olmert avoided a direct answer and went on to describe in length his mental state during the investigations. "The atmosphere, the black cloud… of receiving bribes and of a secret register," he said. "So I explained why in those circumstances there was no way of saying more than I said."

Olmert’s cross-examination is expected to continue until the court recess in late July.