Olmert to Boycott Hearing After Former Aide Indicted in Double-billing Affair

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert has decided to boycott a scheduled hearing with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, after an indictment was filed yesterday against a former aide who is a key figure in the case the hearing was slated to address.

Mazuz had previously announced that unless the hearing changed his mind, he planned to indict Olmert in this case, which involves the alleged double-billing of various organizations for the same flights. The hearing was to have taken place next month.

Yesterday, however, the prosecution indicted Olmert's former travel coordinator, Rachael Risby-Raz, in the Jerusalem District Court on charges of involvement in the scam. According to Olmert's lawyers, this makes it clear that Mazuz has already made up his mind on the case, rendering the hearing pointless.

In a letter to Mazuz, the attorneys added that the indictment has completely destroyed their faith in the prosecution, and they are now considering whether their client should boycott planned hearings in two other cases against him as well.

Nevertheless, Mazuz's office said the decision to waive the hearing would not result in Olmert's being charged immediately. The prosecution views all three cases against Olmert as interconnected, it said, and therefore, no indictments will be filed until hearings have been held - if Olmert so chooses - on all three.

In their letter to Mazuz, attorneys Eli Zohar, Yehuda Weinstein, Navot Telzur and Roy Blecher charged that the indictment "attests better than 100 witnesses that you have definitively decided to indict [Olmert] in this case."

"[It proves] that your ears and your heart are closed, and that you are not even bothering to keep up appearances," they wrote.

But Mazuz's office rejected this charge. In a response to Olmert's attorneys, senior Mazuz aide Ran Nizri wrote that "we see no contradiction" between the indictment and the hearing, since the charges focus on Risby-Raz's own actions, so this case will not decide the question of Olmert's guilt or innocence.

Yet, in fact, the indictment clearly asserts that Risby-Raz committed her alleged crimes on orders from Olmert, with additional assistance from his former office manager, Shula Zaken. It further says the double-billing scam netted some $92,000 over the course of 15 flights, which was kept in a special fund at the Rishon Tours travel agency to finance private trips abroad for Olmert and his family, as well as to secure him upgrades on flights abroad for work purposes.

The alleged offenses did not take place while Olmert was premier, but rather during his terms in three previous posts: finance minister, industry minister and mayor of Jerusalem. In all three of these roles, he was often invited overseas by various nonprofits to serve as a keynote speaker at fund-raisers.

The indictment charges Risby-Raz with aggravated fraud, falsifying corporate documents, fraud and breach of trust. As the one who actually made Olmert's travel arrangements, it says, she deceived the sponsoring organizations by concealing the fact that several different groups were funding the same flight.

Moreover, it said, the Rishon Tours agency - at the request of Olmert and Zaken - then issued inflated invoices to the organizations to account for the extra money obtained by the double billing.

The indictment lists Olmert's wife and four children as being among the prosecution witnesses in the case.

The other two cases against Olmert involve alleged influence peddling at the Industry Ministry's Investment Center while he served as industry minister and his alleged receipt of cash-filled envelopes over a period of many years from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky. Hearings in these two cases have been scheduled for next month as well.