Attorney Uri Messer, Ehud Olmert's confidant, refused to confront the prime minister over his role in the Talansky affair. Messer told police he was afraid of Olmert, Haaretz has learned.
Confrontations between people involved in an investigation is a technique police often use in the hope that something new will be revealed.
A legal source said Messer's testimony was very strong, and could contribute to drafting an indictment against Olmert over the money he took from American financier Morris Talansky. However, another source said that Messer cooperated with the police only to a limited extent, and gave them as little information as he could.
The detectives wanted to arrange a confrontation between Messer and Olmert, after the latter denied knowing that Messer had kept cash from Talansky in his safe, Haaretz has learned.
Messer had told the detectives that Olmert knew that he was keeping Talansky's money in his safe. "I spoke to him about it. He relied on me to keep the money," Messer reportedly told police.
When Messer was first interrogated on the Talansky affair, he was asked whether he received money from Olmert's former bureau chief Shula Zaken. He reserved the right to remain silent for a long time, a source familiar with the investigation told Haaretz.
The source said Messer did everything he could to protect his close associates Olmert and Zaken. "He was tormented in the interrogations. This is not a witness who volunteered information freely," the source said.
Later, however, Messer started cooperating reluctantly with the detectives, while saying it pained him to testify against his close friend and former partner.
"I feel bad about turning informer on my friends," he kept saying. He also said, "I'm finished," and "I've destroyed my life."
After Olmert's attempt to shift responsibility for the financial transactions onto Messer, in his address to the nation last week, Messer said, "I started it, not him." He denied having been "sold down the river" by Olmert.
Messer told police that Zaken had given him money, which she said belonged to Olmert, occasionally in recent years. Messer kept Olmert's money in two separate safes, one in his office and the other at a Bank Leumi branch in Jerusalem, he said.
"When Shula or Olmert wanted a certain amount, they would call me and ask. I'd go to the safe at the bank and take out the amount they wanted," Messer reportedly said.
He estimated he took out thousands to tens of thousands of dollars at a time.
The money passed between Messer and Zaken mainly behind Zaken's closed office door at the Industry and Trade Ministry, Haaretz has learned. Occasionally the two met in Zaken's home or Messer's law offices.
Messer said he gave Olmert envelopes with money directly no more than five times, the source said. At Olmert's request, Messer sometimes had the money converted to shekels at change kiosks before giving it to the minister at his home or office.
Messer told police several times that he had been responsible for launching the Talansky scandal by unveiling the truth about the funds the American gave Olmert, a legal source said. Messer styled himself as "the star of the case," the source added.
In 2006, after journalists began asking questions, Messer called Zaken and said he wanted to return the money to her, the source said.
He took a black bag, filled it with money - an estimated $150,000 - from the safes and brought it to Zaken. He told Olmert that he had returned the money to Zaken. Messer believes she still has the bag, the source said.
Messer was questioned on suspicion of false registration in corporate documents. This followed Talansky's testimony that Messer had advised him to split a sum that was more than the maximum permitted contribution into several "legal" contributions, to be divided among Talansky's relatives. Messer said he saw nothing wrong with splitting contributions, but claimed he could not remember giving Talansky such advice, the source said.
A source close to the investigation said there are several contradictions between Messer's and Talansky's testimonies.
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