Political contributions received between election campaigns do not have to be reported to the authorities, according to a 12-year-old legal opinion by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman that was presented yesterday to the Jerusalem District Court. The opinion, drafted when Neeman was a lawyer in private practice, was submitted by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's lawyers as the court resumed its deliberations in his trial.
Olmert is charged with double-billing non-profit organizations for the same overseas flights and using the surplus to fund personal vacations, receiving cash-filled envelopes from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky, and improperly interfering in decisions at the Industry Ministry's Investment Center. Most of the alleged offenses occurred while Olmert was either minister of industry, trade and labor or finance minister.
Neeman's opinion was prepared at Olmert's request at a time when the latter received funds from Talansky in advance of upcoming Likud party primaries. Olmert's lawyers claim the opinion also has implications with regard to subsequent sums of money that Olmert is on trial for receiving from Talansky. The legal opinion from 1999 has not yet been formally admitted as evidence, but the former prime minster's lawyers have said that if the prosecution attempts to have it excluded, they will summon Neeman to testify in court about it.
Such a prospect may cause some unease for the prosecution because Neeman would be testifying against the state prosecution, a government agency that reports to him as justice minister. The prosecution is expected to disclose its decision on the issue shortly.
The Neeman document relates to events that predate the allegations in the indictment against Olmert. Furthermore, the 1999 legal opinion does not address allegations that beginning in 2003, Talansky gave Olmert funds, including envelopes with cash, without any connection to upcoming elections. The indictment says the funds were provided to cover Olmert's personal expenses.
With the resumption of the trial yesterday, Ra'anan Dinur, who was serving as director-general of the Jerusalem Municipality when Olmert was the city's mayor, testified for the defense. Dinur was also director-general of the Industry Ministry when Olmert was in charge there.
Dinur heaped praise on Olmert in his testimony, saying if he had to name one person for whom he had worked who was free of corruption it would be Ehud Olmert. "There is a long line of people who would say the same thing," Dinur said. "It was my great privilege to work for him all those years."
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