Witness in Hirchson Graft Case: I Handed Olmert a Fat Envelope

Witness, himself convicted of embezzlement, testifies envelope given to Olmert at ex-finance min.'s request.

A witness in the embezzlement case against former finance minister Abraham Hirchson revealed in his testimony Tuesday that he had personally delivered a "fat envelope" from Hirchson to outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is also under investigation on corruption charges.

The witness, David Cohen, said that he did not know what the content of the envelope was, but emphasized that it was very "fat" and that Olmert shoved it into his pocket and thanked him for it.

Hirchson is suspected of having embezzled millions of shekels from the National Workers' Organization, a workers' union he headed between 1998 and 2005, and from Nili, a non-profit organization associated with the Histadrut national labor federation.

Cohen, who was a courier for Nili and the National Workers' Organization, was asked about the events surrounding the transfer of funds, to which he responded "it was at the behest of Mr. Hirchenson (sic.), Ovadia was like his nanny," referring to Ovadia Cohen, his older brother, who was also employed by Nili.

He maintains that Hirchson would never speak to the employees. "Everything passed through Ovadia. Even going to the government building to give Olmert an envelope required that I notify Ovadia".

Olmert's media advisor, Amir Dan responded to the statement saying it is an unsupported allegation, and that police had already investigated the affair and dispelled all suspicions against the prime minister.

Cohen was convicted on Sunday in a plea agreement on charges of having embezzled NIS 5.5 million from the National Workers' Organization after having incurred gambling debts. He was also convicted of involvement in the theft of an additional NIS 860,000 on behalf of other defendants in the case. The conviction included charges of theft, money laundering and falsifying documents. The plea agreement stipulated that his punishment will be determined by the court.

During his testimony, Cohen was asked how he knew that the envelopes Hirchson received contained money, to which he responded that on one occasion he himself had helped count the money and put it in the envelope. On another occasion, he added, one of the envelopes he had taken with him to deliver had torn, and inside was cash.

"It was late one evening," he said, "a night before he was supposed to travel, back in 2000. Ovadia brought me an envelope and it tore at my house. I counted the money, out of curiosity, and so no one could accuse me any was missing, or stolen, and it was $7,000. I went to his house and the Filipina housekeeper opened the door. I went upstairs and he came toward me with no shirt on and I gave the envelope with the $7,000 to Hirchenson (sic.) in his hand."

Hirchson, in response to his indictment, denied having received money from the National Workers' Organization, but said that the money was given to him as part of his retirement benefits.