Olmert at Graft Trial: My Frequent Flights Were 'Important' in Representing Israel

The former prime minister says his hundreds of flights abroad were 'networking' opportunities to connect with colleagues and donors.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert responded during his corruption trial on Monday to charges that he had double billed nonprofits for the same overseas flights and used the surplus to fund personal vacations.

Olmert said the flights were not a "great pleasure", saying instead "it was important to me to represent Israel."

Ehud Olmert
Gili Cohen-Magen

He described the hundreds of flights as "networking" opportunities for him to connect with contributors from around the world.

Olmert also denied having a close relationship with the travel agency that he used, Rishon Tours, saying the image of him having "intimate connections" to the agency's management was false.

The former prime minister said he didn’t think that using points to pay for the flights of family members was an issue until the subject came up in a Knesset Ethics Committee meeting in 2007. If there were not enough points, Olmert said that family members paid for flights with private money.

"I did not deal with all this small bookkeeping," Olmert said while giving testimony. "No one ever heard of me asking someone to accumulate excess money for me."

The court session on Monday is one of several sessions during which Olmert is expected to respond to the three main charges against him: double-billing nonprofits 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 he was either industry minister or finance minister.

Among the issues that Olmert is expected to be asked about is testimony by his good friend, attorney Uri Messer, who said he kept hundreds of thousands of shekels in cash for Olmert at a safe in his office, and by his travel planner, Rachael Risby-Raz, who said Olmert was fully aware of the double-billing.

The trial is expected to continue through the summer, at least.