New evidence against Olmert might lead to even more charges
Multiple witnesses questioned, appear to support the testimony of U.S. businessman Morris Talansky.
New evidence obtained in the latest probe of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has revealed several new offenses with which the premier could potentially be charged, on top of the bribery suspicions that sparked the investigation, law enforcement officials told Haaretz Sunday.
According to the officials, there is relatively substantial evidence of fraud, breach of trust and conspiracy to commit a crime. In addition, investigators are examining whether the prime minister violated campaign finance and money-laundering laws, but the chances of finding enough evidence to indict him on these charges are smaller.
"At the moment, we're focusing less on defining the crimes with which Olmert will be charged - if he is charged - and more on the task of gathering evidence against him," said one. "Only later will the investigators clearly determine which crimes the evidence translates into, and whether enough evidence has been gathered to charge Olmert with bribery and other offenses."
Law enforcement officials involved in the investigation said that over the last few days, several witnesses have been questioned, including civil servants and people involved in banking transactions and other monetary transfers connected with the case - primarily transfers between American businessman Morris (Moshe) Talansky and Olmert, and between attorney Uri Messer and both Olmert and Shula Zaken. Messer was in charge of handling the money that Talansky, who is the key witness in the case, gave to Olmert, and both he and Zaken, who is Olmert's former office manager, may be suspects in the case.
The officials said that all this testimony was taken in an effort to find circumstantial evidence that would support the testimony provided by Talansky, and it appears that it does. The American businessman had testified "about cash that he transferred to Olmert over the course of years," said one.
The officials added that the probe is likely to continue for another several months, though probably less than half a year. "Now, we need to enable the investigative team to work in peace," said one.
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz also said Sunday that he doubted a decision on the probe would be made in the near future.
"I am not certain that we will make a legal decision in the coming weeks," Mazuz told Channel 2's Ilana Dayan in an interview broadcast yesterday. "This is an unrealistic attitude."
Earlier yesterday, Talansky informed the High Court of Justice that he is prepared to stay in Israel only until late Monday, May 26, thus limiting the time in which he can give prior testimony to the court.
Talansky, a former fundraiser for Olmert, is slated to give a deposition to the Jerusalem District Court on May 25, if the High Court rejects a petition by Olmert and Zaken against the planned testimony. His departure on May 26 would therefore only allow two days for the testimony, including cross-examination by Olmert's attorneys.
In his announcement, Talansky's attorneys stressed that he will not agree to extend his stay any further.
"A further extension of this sort would constitute a severe, unjustified and disproportionate blow that goes beyond what can be demanded of a third party and [infringes on] his rights," the attorneys wrote.
But Talansky also said he plans to return to Israel a few days before the marriage of his grandson, set for June 11, and again for the bar mitzvah of another grandson on July 11. That undercuts the argument made by the State Prosecutor's Office in the brief it submitted to the High Court yesterday, in which it argued that Talansky's deposition was necessary because he could not be relied on to return to Israel to testify at Olmert's trial should the premier ultimately be indicted.
In their submission, Talansky's attorneys also stressed that their client, though a U.S. citizen, has a strong connection to Israel. "Neither an investigation, a trial, publicity nor discomfort of any kind would motivate him to cut his ties with the state he considers his home and to which he is connected with every fiber of his being," the brief said. "It is precisely this deep spiritual and emotional connection between him and the state that will cause him to want to return to Israel and answer every question he is asked, within the framework of an investigation or trial."
The High Court is due to hear Olmert's petition Monday.
In his interview with Dayan, meanwhile, Mazuz also commented on the broader struggle against governmental corruption. The public sector, he said, is currently undergoing a painful process of cleansing, "which in my view, will certainly bring about a cleaner reality."
"There is no reality that is completely clean," Mazuz warned. However, he said, he already sees a change in the areas on which the legal establishment has focused its efforts.
"I see that in these fields, there has clearly been quite a significant change," he said. "I hope that there will also be an impact on those areas that feed the phenomenon of governmental corruption, and a [consequent] drop in the curve."