Former prime minister Ehud Olmert continued testifying at his corruption trial yesterday, giving his first detailed response to one of the main charges against him - that he double-billed various nonprofits for the same overseas flights and then used the surplus to finance personal trips for himself and his family.
While serving as industry minister, Olmert was often invited to address overseas groups. But he said he had nothing to do with "petty" issues like how these trips were financed - "how much it cost or didn't cost; no one ever heard me ask him to amass extra funds for me."
Whenever his office manager, Shula Zaken, had told him he owed money, he had paid it, Olmert said. "I should sit with a calculator and check how it was paid or who paid it?" the former PM said.
Moreover, he argued, even if his staff had made mistakes, this didn't mean they had done so deliberately and systematically.
"In the end, this whole trial will be reduced to the question of whether mistakes were made," he said. "I've already said the one who heads the system bears responsibility. But the question is whether there was deception, a desire to profit."
Olmert then began giving biographical details of his travel planner, Rachael Risby-Raz, in an effort to show that she would never cheat anyone. But the three-judge panel of the Jerusalem District Court quickly slapped a gag order on most of these details.
Olmert protested his portrayal in the media as a hedonist, insisting over and over that all his trips abroad entailed exhausting labor. "There was no great pleasure. But it was important to me to represent Israel," he said.
Explaining why he needed first-class plane tickets and luxury hotels, he said, "I was no longer a child, I was long past 50. Yes, I wanted to be in first class. You land at 6 A.M., and by 8 A.M. you're already in action.
"I wanted to be in a high-level hotel; I had many meetings. I needed an extra room for hospitality. There's also protocol: People come to you. Where are you going to seat them, on the bed? You're the deputy prime minister!"
The rental car, he added, was a security requirement. "What, the deputy prime minister should stand on the street waving his hand until a yellow cab comes?" Olmert quizzed.
He also denied, as he did in his police interrogations, having known that the frequent flyer miles he accumulated on these trips were used to finance trips for his family.
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