Olmert: Question of Vanished Funds Intrigues Me Even Today

Former Prime Minister testifies in court, says statements made during investigation were due to 'mental state'.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's testimony continued Thursday at the Jerusalem District Court, where he answered questions about a secret fund and about his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, who allegedly listened in on his phone conversations without his knowledge or consent for three years.

Olmert, who was indicted in August 2010 on charges of fraud, fraud under aggravating circumstances, falsifying corporate documents, tax evasion and breach of trust, is currently plagued by several corruption-related scandals.

The indictment states that Olmert's close friend, Uri Messer, kept a secret fund of 150,000 dollars, some of which allegedly came from Talansky. Zaken transferred the funds to Messer, which he kept in his office safe until their mysterious disappearance. When asked by Judge Yaakov Tzaban about the vanished funds, Olmert responded by saying that the matter " intrigues me even today." He then went on to state that the matter could not be properly investigated at the time, as he could not resolve the issue with either Messer or Zaken during the investigation period.

Ehud Olmert
Gili Cohen-Magen

Zaken, who was indicted for aggravated fraud, falsifying documents, and breach of trust, allegedly assisted Olmert in defrauding both the state and various organizations over several years in what has come to be known as the "Rishon Tours" affair.

According to the indictments, Zaken was in charge of a system in which Olmert obtained double and triple funding for his trips abroad, where he spoke on behalf of groups such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, a support group for the IDF, a charity for mentally disabled Israeli children and several others. The leftover money made from these speaking engagements was kept in a special account at the Rishon Tours travel agency, which Olmert and his family allegedly used for private trips abroad.

During Thursday's hearing, Olmert claimed that his remarks during the initial investigation, in which he was surprised to find out that Zaken had indeed been listening in on his conversations, did not match reality and were said due to his mental state at the time. "My state of mind at the time was one of defending myself," claimed Olmert, "I saw the next indictment down the road, and I thought of the strange conspiracy with regards to the eavesdropping. It's not easy to come here and admit these things, but that is the truth."

Olmert went on to reject the possibility that Zaken was involved in obscuring the fact that he traveled on behalf of the aforementioned organizations. "I want to make it clear that during the period when I traveled to New York, it was impossible to keep this kind of thing a secret." Olmert went on to say that he would have been a "complete fool" to believe he could hide such a thing.