Olmert's Rishon Tours Trial Returns After Summer Recess

Court expected to reject requestto postpone testimony of key witness.

The first post-summer recess session of the trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, scheduled for today, is expected to be dramatic for Olmert, with the appearence of a key witness in the Rishon Tours affair.

Today will also be Olmert's first public appearance since the police recommended indicting him in the Holyland Park affair on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting a bribe.

The witness is Rachael Risby-Raz, who was Olmert's travel coordinator during his terms as mayor of Jerusalem and later as minister of industry, trade and labor (2003-2006 ).

Olmert stands accused of fraudulently double billing public bodies and using the money to pay for trips abroad for his family. Police say they discovered receipts that support the charges during the investigation by the fraud squad and in a raid on the offices of the agency handling Olmert's travel arrangements, Rishon Tours.

Risby-Raz was charged, in a separate indictment, with aggravated fraud, the falsification of corporate documents and with breach of trust. Her lawyer, Asher Ohayon, wants to postpone her testimony, which he says could reveal his line of defense. her. Olmert's lawyers have also asked for Risby-Raz's testimony to be postponed. They argue that her testimony could be damaging because of her concerns over her own legal situation.

The prosecution, however, opposes a delay. The judges in the case have asked each side to present its arguments over postponing Risby-Raz's in-court testimony, after which the judges will issue a ruling.

In any case, the judges asked Risby-Raz to appear in court and be ready to testify if required.

The bench, headed by District Court President Moussia Arad, has kept the trial on a strict schedule and has so far refused any postponements. Sources close to the trial said yesterday the judges would not grant a postponement in this case either.

Both sides hang their hopes on Risby-Raz's testimony. The prosecution believes she will be able to shed light on Olmert's actions in the Rishon Tours affair, while the defense believes she will show the prosecution's claims to be baseless.

According to Risby-Raz's charge sheet, the first issued in the Rishon Tours affair, she helped Olmert and his longtime office manager, Shula Zaken, to cheat the state and various public bodies around the world by having them pay much more than the real cost of Olmert's flights abroad. In many cases, according to the indictment, the same trips were billed to two organizations. "Olmert used the leftover funds from this activity to finance private expenses," the indictment states.

Under questioning, Risby-Raz admitted that she was the one who organized all of Olmert's trips, whether funded by the state or by bodies that had invited Olmert to speak and raise funds for them. Risby-Raz was also responsible for the connection between Olmert and American businessman Moshe Talansky, from whom Olmert is suspected of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars, allegedly illicitly, over the years.