Uri Messer
Former Ehud Olmert confidant Uri Messer in court Tuesday. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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There were dramatic exchanges yesterday at the Jerusalem District Court in the so-called Investment Center case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, with the prosecution requesting that Uri Messer, a prosecution witness and former law partner of Olmert, be declared a hostile witness for allegedly lying to protect Olmert.

The case involves allegations that Olmert provided Messer with illegal favors. The court denied the request, which would have enabled the prosecution to ask more pointed leading questions of Messer, enabling the prosecution to recast his testimony.

Prosecutor Uri Corb accused Messer of lying and alleged that there were substantial contradictions between Messer's statement under his police interrogation, his initial court testimony on direct examination and on cross-examination by lawyers for Olmert and his former office manager, Shula Zaken.

In an effort to highlight the claim of discrepancies in Messer's account of events, Corb told the court that Messer had told the police and had testified earlier in court about several occasions in which he had given money to Olmert, but on cross-examination that he had no recollection of this, but rather that it was an assumption. Corb also said that Messer lied about the source of money allegedly received through Zaken, which the prosecution alleges came from American businessman Morris Talansky. Olmert is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Talansky in cash-filled envelopes.

Olmert's lawyer, Navot Tel-Zur, said there was no discrepancy between the statement Messer made to the police and his testimony on cross-examination. The defense lawyers said some of Messer's statements to the police were the result of pressure and threats directed at the witness and his poor state of health at the time. The prosecutors have repeatedly tried to declare witnesses as hostile when witnesses' testimony has not painted the picture the prosecution is trying to present, Olmert's media adviser Amir Dan said.

The three-judge district court panel headed by Judge Moussia Arad denied the prosecution's request to declare Messer a hostile witness at this stage. Messer's testimony is to continue tomorrow.

Messer's lawyer, Dror Matatyahu, said his client had presented the court with his account of events "based on facts to the best of his knowledge and recollection, and he will continue to do so."