Evidence of Talansky, Messer Monetary Exchange Surfaces

Alleged transaction documented by former PM bureau chief, who is suspected of serving as middleman.

A police spokesman said Wednesday that investigators have obtained evidence of a monetary exchange between American fundraiser Morris (Moshe) Talansky and attorney Uri Messer, an associate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The alleged monetary exchange was documented by former Olmert's former office chief Shula Zaken, who is suspected of serving as the intermediary in the said exchange.

Police are scheduled to question Olmert at 10 A.M. Friday in his residence in Jerusalem in connection with their investigation into suspicions that he took bribes during his tenure as Jerusalem mayor and minister of industry and trade.

Olmert and his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, on Wednesday will ask the Jerusalem District Court to delay its planned deposition of American fundraiser Morris (Moshe) Talansky, in order to give the defense attorneys time to go through the investigative material. The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected their petition against the deposition, ruling that the district court's decision to hear prior testimony from Talansky was sound.

Friday's planned interrogation was scheduled yesterday, following talks between Olmert's attorneys and detectives from the Fraud Squad. Police investigators began trying to arrange the interrogation last Thursday, but Olmert's defense team finally agreed only yesterday. This will be Olmert's second interrogation since the affair broke two weeks ago.

Police are eager to have Olmert's version of events in order to be able to present it as definitive when Talansky offers his testimony in open court on Sunday. Otherwise, police sources had expressed concern that Olmert and his defense team would try to improve his version of events after hearing Talansky's testimony.

Most of the investigative material was received by Olmert's lawyers yesterday, after they had delayed the transfer for days. However, some of the material will remain classified until after police have questioned the prime minister about it.

Talansky was questioned by the Fraud Squad on Tuesday for several hours, and he is expected to be questioned again, probably Wednesday. The court order barring him from leaving the country expires today, but the State Prosecutor's Office plans to ask that it be extended until the American businessman testifies in court.

Gag order to be lifted today

Also on Wednesday, a gag order on documents written by Shula Zaken - which allegedly record the flow of cash between Talansky and Olmert, and which were confiscated in a search carried out at the Ministry of Industry and Trade - will expire.

Law enforcement sources said the initial investigation into the Olmert-Talansky affair has managed to collect evidence that supports suspicions that Olmert received bribes. "There are signs of bribery, suspicions that are being substantiated," said one. "But it is still too soon to determine whether it will be possible to bring charges on this matter."

"So far, police investigators have failed to find any legitimate reason for the transfer of cash, over a number of years, from Talansky to Olmert," the source added.

Police have investigated the period when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem mayor, as the cash transfers were allegedly meant to serve his mayoral election campaigns. But the investigation is currently focused on the period when Olmert served as minister of industry and trade. The police consider the latter period crucial, because they feel it can be shown that the funds he received then were not used in an election campaign, and may have been used to cover debts, contrary to Olmert's statements in the media last week.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Olmert and Zaken are trying to delay Talansky's deposition, scheduled for Sunday. Eli Zohar, representing Olmert, asked Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel yesterday to delay Talansky's testimony, but Abarbanel refused.

In his response to the High Court petition filed by Olmert and Zaken against the deposition, Talansky made it clear that he would not agree to stay in Israel after May 26. However, he added, he planned to return to Israel for his granddaughter's wedding on June 11.