PM's Team to Quiz Talansky Today

The cross-examination of American fund-raiser Morris Talansky is set to open today at the Jerusalem District Court in a graft case against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, known as the cash-envelopes affair.

Lawyers for Olmert and his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, are planning to screen parts of Talansky's police interrogation that show that he repeatedly changed his versions of the same events. They also intend to confront him with details given to the police by Olmert's former law-firm partner, Uri Messer, to undermine Talansky's credibility as the key witness in the case. The lawyers will argue that the police and prosecution tailor-made Talansky's story.

Olmert's defense team had trouble yesterday concealing rifts among its members. After several tense days of verbal sparring between Olmert's attorneys, Prof. Ron Shapira announced his resignation from the case.

On Sunday, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that during a meeting between Olmert and his lawyers to prepare for his third police interrogation, Shapira had suggested putting together a plea bargain with the State Prosecutor's Office.

Shapira expressed concern at the meeting that if an indictment is filed against Olmert he would receive a prison sentence.

He therefore proposed to the prime minister and his colleagues that a "package deal" be presented to the prosecution: Olmert would plead guilty to relatively minor offenses such as fraud and breach of trust, and would resign from his post immediately. Attorneys Eli Zohar and Navot Telzur were opposed to the suggestion. The newspaper report did not mention attorney Roi Blecher's position.

It turns out that at that same meeting, which took place on the day before the double-billing affair dubbed "Olmertours" broke, his four lawyers were not in agreement regarding Olmert's chances of surviving the envelopes case, and argued over what strategy to employ.

After news of the latest investigation, in which Olmert is suspected of billing multiple public associations for overseas trips and pocketing the surplus for his family's use, his lawyers tried to maintain a facade of business-as-usual, even waging aggressive defense tactics in the media.

Telzur and Shapira were dispatched to give interviews to every outlet, but their comments clearly lacked coordination. Telzur claimed that funding had indeed been requested from several nonprofit organizations at once but that he was not at all sure if any remaining surplus was rolled over from one trip to another. Shapira claimed that all the details in this case were open, and that the surplus was most definitely rolled over.

But whereas Shapira rushed to Olmert's defense in the media, his real position was leaked to Yedioth Ahronoth. Olmert's media adviser, Amir Dan, was quick to deny the details reported, but the public damage was already done.

Bad blood spread between the members of the team. It was decided that Shapira would not question Talansky under cross-examination. In the division of labor among the lawyers, Shapira had been placed in charge of the material that arrived from their private investigators in the Untied States. The sleuths had been working for weeks to find dirt on Talansky, and the lawyers agreed not to publicize their discoveries in order to preserve the element of surprise.

But once again someone broke ranks and gave some of the details to the press. Information published in the past two days includes allegations of irregular financial movements in Talansky's bank accounts, and accusations regarding threats against his business partners.

This was, apparently, the last straw as far as Shapira was concerned. He had had enough and decided to quit the case. The remaining members of Olmert's defense team undoubtedly had to work hard yesterday to bone up on Shapira's part in the cross-examination.