Olmert Under Investigation / Messer Could Get Immunity Deal

The State Prosecutor's Office is considering offering Uri Messer, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's former associate, to turn state's witness against the premier rather than prosecute him as a co-defendant, should the current suspicions of corruption against Olmert yield an indictment, according to a court statement last week by Jerusalem's district prosecutor.

"It remains unclear whether the evidence regarding the suspicions against Olmert will be sufficient to support an indictment," Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said yesterday.

The statement about Messer by Eli Abarbanel - in a closed court session whose content was made public only yesterday - was made during a court deliberation concerning the prosecution's request to expedite the collection of testimony by American-Israeli businessman Moshe Talansky, a suspect in the case.

Olmert is suspected of illicitly accepting large sums of cash from Talansky. Some of the donations are believed to have taken place during Olmert's 10-year tenure as mayor of Jerusalem.

Messer, a close associate of Olmert's, is suspected of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Talansky to pass on to Olmert and his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken. Olmert is also suspected of illegally accepting funds during his tenure as minister of Industry, Trade and Labor.

Abarbanel, the Jerusalem prosecutor, said his office might offer Messer to become a state witness, after the attorneys representing Olmert and Zaken asked during the proceedings why Messer had not been listed along with their clients as a responder.

"I'm not sure I need to respond to that," Abarbanel said when the question came up in court. "In this point in time, it appears that the No. 1 responder in this case is Olmert, and no one will alter that. He is the one suspected of accepting the money, using it and asking for it. He is the senior public official, the minister, and it is his receiving of money notes that gives rise to the full severity of this case. He cannot be compared to others also suspected of being involved in this."

Olmert's attorney, Eli Zohar, claimed during the hearing that "respondent 1 [Olmert] has clear answers to all the questions posed to him. His argument is that the funds Talansky collected were transferred to Shula Zaken, who handed them to Messer in his capacity as head of the association that ran Olmert's campaign, and that the funds were used during three separate election cycles."