American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky, the prosecution's key witness in the graft investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, asked the Jerusalem District Court on Friday to shorten his cross-examination by two days, saying he did not have the energy to withstand the questioning.
The judges rejected the 77-year-old witness' request.
"To our sorrow and despite our desire to take into consideration the witness' request, we are unable to agree to it given the circumstances," the court ruled.
Olmert's attorneys, who grilled Talansky on Friday for the second day, were given a total of five days to conclude their questioning of the witness, who said he had transferred envelopes of cash to their client. The cross-examination was scheduled to last through Tuesday.
The premier's lawyers said they were not opposed to Talansky's request to resume the cross-examination after the Jewish holiday period in September/October. State prosecutors, however, opposed the offer.
Talansky told the court he did not have the energy to withstand the questioning past Sunday. Talansky added that the months-long process has been taxing and has adversely impacted his business and family affairs.
Olmert's attorney's began their questioning of Talansky on Thursday, over the "cash envelopes affair," which alleges that the prime minister received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U.S. fundraiser.
Talansky was quizzed about contributions he had passed on to Olmert during his Jerusalem mayoral campaigns in 1993 and 1998. Eli Zohar, Olmert's attorney, presented Talansky with a letter from an accountant which alludes to Olmert's '93 campaign. The letter states that the source of NIS 80,000 which were donated remains unaccounted for. The witness was asked if it was possible that the sum of money was befitting the amounts he had procured for Olmert.
The American businessman was then presented a list of donors to Olmert's 1998 campaign. Earlier, Talansky claimed that none of the donors had contributed money by way of Talansky. Zohar then produced a statement Talansky gave to police in which he confirmed that some of the donors on the list had in fact contributed money through him.
When asked about the discrepancy, Talansky said that he thought he was being asked about donors who had contributed in cash, and not donors who had sent checks.
Further into questioning, Talansky was shown a list of donors, each of whom had contributed $1,200 to Olmert's 1998 campaign. Talansky said that the names that appear on the list were people who did not attend fundraising events, and that Uri Messer, Olmert's former law partner, told him that the amount was the maximum contribution that was permissible.
Olmert's lawyers then showed Talansky a video of the testimony he gave to the prosecution on May 21 in which he stated that the donors indeed attended fundraisers and that it was Olmert who issued the directive about the maximum amount that donors could contribute.
This is the video that Talansky was shown:
Zohar continued to hammer away at the witness, telling Talansky: "You're making up stories, I pity you. You're making up stories to show that you might remember things but you are mixing things up all the time!"
"How can someone know what the real facts are?" Zohar continued. Talansky replied that he was trying to recall all the events in question. Zohar then told Talansky that he could tell the judges and the attorneys that he simply doesn't remember.
Talansky commenced the second round of questioning by insisting to the premier's attorneys that he had never laundered money.
During the proceedings, an argument erupted between Zohar, and the state prosecutor, Moshe Lador. Zohar asked Talansky about the considerable sums of money he deposited and withdrew from his bank account. Zohar also asked Talansky to produce income tax statements from the last 10 years.
This prompted Lador to rise from his chair. "Since this does not serve the interest of the defense which is to prove that [Talansky's] financial background is shady, this means that the defense's entire goal is to deter the witness from testifying," Lador said.
Zohar accused Lador of "arrogance, since [the prosecutors] are questioning witnesses in the United States about the same thing." Zohar said Lador's statements "are intended for the media."
The top judge sitting in on the cross-examination, Mosia Arad, told Zohar in response that his comments are also tailored for the press.
Following the first day of the cross examination, the premier's lawyers concluded that Talansky was maintaining a secret quid pro quo relationship with the prosecution.
Zohar, grilled Talansky in an effort to impugn the credibility of the deposition Talansky had given to the prosecution in May and undermine his credibility as a witness by pointing out what they suggested were Talansky's frequent, unfounded lawsuits and an untoward attempt to secure a fat severance package from a Jerusalem hospital.
Attorney Nevot Tel-Tzur of Olmert's defense team said at the close of the first day that the defense team was satisfied with the outcome of the cross examination at this stage.
"Talansky is offering and then rescinding his versions of the events too easily. He is maintaining a secret relationship with the prosecution - it was decided to present him as a witness who received no status or promises, but he has received a clear message during secret meetings that though he is formally considered a suspect, he would not be charged with any crime, and thus they are misleading the public," Tel-Tzur said.
According to the defense team, what emerged from Thursday's cross examination was a "sad, complicated or shocking picture" of the way the prosecution was handling the investigation against their client and the way their central witness (Talansky) was being presented.
"I pledge that at the end of the cross examination the public will have a different view of the affair. It won't be the same picture the public has been living with over the last month," Tel-Tzur added.
Talansky sticks to guns in cross-exam
However, in contrast to promises by the prime minister's defense team to discredit Talansky's testimony against Olmert, after seven hours of questioning, Zohar appeared unable to deliver the goods: No matter how many times he attacked Talansky's testimony the audience appeared unimpressed.
At one point he turned to his colleague, attorney Roi Blecher, and said: "The audience is losing its patience, what shall we do?"
Indeed, it did not matter what he pulled out of his hat: rumors about a questionable past, depositions on forceful collection of debts, claims about loans with exorbitant high interest rates and astronomical sums of money that have passed through the Talansky's bank account. Nothing could match the drama of his original deposition.
Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Olmert's name was barely mentioned, and even then only with regard to marginal matters.
Zohar sought to get Talansky to admit that his previous statements to the police were inaccurate. "Did they shout at you?" he asked.
"Oh yes, that tactic was perfect," Talansky responded.
"Please confirm for me that under the pressure of the investigation you said things even if you did not recall them precisely," Zohar urged. "Is it true that when you realized that you didn't have a response you also said fictitious things?"
"I do not believe I invented stories," Talansky responded, but after an exhaustive series of questions he admitted that he also told the police things that were not true.
Zohar revealed that during the staged confrontation between Talansky and Olmert's former office manager, Shula Zaken, he had said about Olmert: "I hope that he will not hire an assassin." Zohar asked Talansky whether the comment was made in seriousness.
"It could have been the result of sudden fear," he said.
Zohar also claimed that Talansky had been promised by the prosecution that he would not be a suspect in the affair.
"I tell you that a deal was done with you," Zohar said, "it is not formal but you know that nothing will be used against you."
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