Morris Talansky, the American-Jewish businessman suspected of making illicit cash transfers to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, gave a deposition to the Jerusalem District Court yesterday in which he said that over a 15-year period, he transferred $150,000 to Olmert.
Talansky described his custom of delivering cash to either Olmert or Shula Zaken, Olmert's bureau chief at the time. In addition to the cash deliveries, he recalled about 10 occasions on which he used his credit card to pay Olmert's expenses. In some cases, Talansky said, he went to his bank specifically to draw out tens of thousands of dollars after Olmert asked him for cash.
During Olmert's mayoral campaign in Jerusalem, Talansky said, Olmert had asked for his help, and he responded that he would do all he could to get him elected instead of Teddy Kollek. He said he wanted to give Olmert a check, but Olmert said he would only take cash.
Talansky also said that back when Olmert was a Likud member, Olmert phoned him and said he needed a lot of money for the Likud leadership primary. When Talansky asked him how much, Olmert said $70,000. Talansky said he was in shock, and decided that would be the last contribution he made. However, he continued, he went to the bank and withdrew between $68,000 and $70,000 and gave it to Olmert. He said he believes that was the last time he contributed to a campaign.
Talansky said the envelopes in which he brought contributions from American donors in later years, when Olmert was industry and trade minister, contained between $3,000 and $8,000 each. He would not bring more, he said, because it was prohibited to bring more in cash on a flight from the United States. Usually, he brought the envelopes to Jerusalem and give them to Shula Zaken.
Talansky said that Zaken would phone him when Olmert was in the U.S. and tell him that Olmert was there, and had not received payment for his expenses, or that the expense money he had been given did not cover all his expenses. Talansky said he would then raise the money to cover the shortfall.
Talansky said he recalled one time when Olmert had wanted to fly first class, but had only been provided with a business-class ticket. Talansky therefore paid the difference.
Talansky also said that Olmert loved expensive cigars, pens and watches.
According to his calculations, Talansky said, he gave Olmert about 10 envelopes during Olmert's tenure at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Employment. He also said he thought his credit card had been used about 10 times to pay for Olmert's stays at the Regency Hotel in New York.
Talansky said he paid about $4,700 on his credit card for a three-day stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington in October 2005. He said he had asked Olmert what he was doing there, and Olmert said he was there for a few days, and the money would be a loan. He said he had been told that Aliza Olmert had an exhibition there.
Talansky said that while Olmert was staying at the Regency in New York, he asked Talansky for a loan of $15,000. Talansky said he would give Olmert a check, but Olmert, according to Talansky, said he needed cash. Talansky said he went to his bank on Park Avenue on foot and withdrew the money.
Talansky also testified that he had asked Olmert why he did not raise money through the Likud Party's fundraisers in the U.S. Olmert told him that the party's fundraisers did not raise enough money, and moreover, if he were to go through them, the money would go straight to the party.
When Olmert was in the U.S. for his son's wedding, the witness continued, Talansky asked him to lecture at an event. He said Olmert asked him for $3,000 for expenses. Talansky asked him what expenses there were, as Olmert was in the U.S. for a private event, and he told Talansky that the organization had not paid for his ticket and therefore he should receive $3,000. Talansky said he raised the money from individuals, put it in an envelope and gave it to Olmert.
In 2004, Olmert told Talansky he was going on a family vacation in Italy and asked Talansky if he could borrow $25,000. Talansky said he recalled it was a Jewish holiday, and that he thought it was inappropriate to travel on a holiday. But he said he went to the bank and subsequently gave Olmert $25,000 to $30,000 in cash.
State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, in a rare court appearance as a prosecutor, conducted the examination of the witness himself.
Following the court session, Olmert held another consultation with his legal team regarding the line of defense he would mount against Talansky's testimony. Olmert reportedly believes that Talansky's testimony has quite a few holes that will become apparent on cross-examination, and which would undermine many of Talansky's statements.
However, Olmert's attorneys decided not to cross-examine Talansky yesterday. Instead, they will wait until July, when Talansky will return to Israel for another round of testimony.
A source on Olmert's legal team seemed unperturbed by the testimony. "In the legal world, direct testimony is the easy part," he said. "The witness is questioned in an unpressured environment. Sometimes he is allowed to give his version without being contradicted. Cross-examination will be a different story, and then we'll see what the truth is."
Olmert has reportedly told his aides over the past few days that he is aware of the public price he is going to pay over Talansky's testimony.
While Talanksy was testifying, Olmert was paying a visit to the navy. He was welcomed by an honor guard in navy whites and seemed excited by his tour of various ships, accompanied by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and navy commander Major General Eli Marom. An aide said his visit to the submarines and naval commando speedboats, as well as the live-fire demonstration he saw, "made his day."
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