Members of former prime minister Ehud Olmert's defense team said yesterday that an important part of his charge sheet had "collapsed" due to contradictions in the testimony of Dan Marinov, a prosecution witness.
The alleged discrepancies arose during yesterday's cross-examination of Marinov, who was accountant general of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor during Olmert's tenure as minister.
During his direct examination Marinov testified on the handling by Olmert's office of the minister's foreign travel and said that he had drawn attention to questionable activities on the part of Olmert's aides. The prosecution tried to use Marinov's testimony to show that Olmert and his long-time secretary, Shula Zaken, had defrauded by submitting to Marinov false invoices for trips he made abroad.
While these invoices were issued by Ayala, a travel agency that was authorized to submit invoices to the government, they were in fact from Rishon Tours, the travel agency that arranged Olmert's trips. Lawyers for the prosecution argued that Ayala served as a conduit for funneling $70,000 in total from the ministry to Rishon Tours.
During her cross-examination yesterday of Marinov, defense attorney Navit Negev produced a transcript of his statement to police investigators. She argued that it implied that Marinov was aware of the invoice arrangement and had even authorized it.
"I remember few cases, if any, when Rishon Tours invoices were submitted to me. I refused to pay because Rishon Tours did not have an arrangement with the accountant general," Marinov told police.
"Had I known of [the conduit arrangement], it's hard for me to say now what my problem with it was. If Ayala met the terms of the government tender and gave the cheapest flight and the shortest route, I don't see any harm to the state. It's clear it's not proper conduct but financially I don't see a problem," he told police.
The defense team claims that Marinov's office approved the Ayala invoices one month after he had rejected the Rishon Tours invoices. "There's no doubt Marinov knew it was the same invoices and hence knew about the system. This is the collapse of the entire third count, charging Olmert with a $70,000 fraud," one defense lawyer said.
The defense further argues that passing money through Ayala is not illegal and constituted use of a subcontractor, which the Finance Ministry does not prohibit.
Marinov testified that he did not know which company had issued the invoices. "I didn't know, had I known the invoices weren't Ayala's but Rishon Tours' I would have opened an investigation," he said. Later he said: "Hard as I try I can't remember seeing Rishon Tours invoices."
The prosecution also dismissed the defense's interpretation, saying Marinov did not receive Rishon Tours invoices and certainly did not know the Ayala invoices were a cover for payments to Rishon Tours.
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