Tycoons Questioned in Talansky Affair

The focus of the investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert continued yesterday to focus on the search for any quid pro quo that Olmert might have provided to U.S. businessman Morris Talansky in exchange for the hundreds of thousands of dollars he is suspected of giving to Olmert.

Police questioned billionaire U.S. businessmen Sheldon Adelson and S. Daniel Abraham in connection with the investigation. Both men are in Israel to attend the Presidential Conference.

Real estate tycoon Adelson provided a sworn statement to detectives yesterday.

Police believe that Olmert wrote to him and at least one other major hotel owner and asked them to buy minibar refrigerators for their properties made by a company in which Talansky had a stake at the time.

Talansky himself is thought to be behind the letter, which did not result in purchase orders.

Sources said that Adelson, who owns the free Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom and is close to former prime minister and Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, was hard put to remember the letter and Olmert's request.

On Monday, police detectives waited for Abraham outside his Jerusalem hotel and questioned him about his relationship with Olmert and money he allegedly transferred to the prime minister years ago. In January 2004, Abraham purchased Olmert's former home on Kaf Tet Benovember Street in Jerusalem. Abraham made his fortune as a founder of Slim Fast, and in 1989 he founded the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation, which he bankrolls.

Israeli law-enforcement authorities yesterday confirmed that both Adelson and Abraham were questioned by police in connection with the investigation but emphasized that they are not suspects and that their statements were intended to establish Olmert's pattern of behavior and that he acted in Talansky's favor.

Earlier yesterday, detectives from the police's National Fraud Unit raided offices at the Trade and Industry Ministry in their widening search for a paper trail showing the alleged money trail between Talansky and Olmert. Police did not raid the minister's office, as they did in a previous search in a different Olmert investigation, focusing instead on the ministry's correspondence archive.

In addition to carting away documents, detectives yesterday attempted to restore data from ministry computers. Olmert headed the ministry from 2003 to 2006, before he became prime minister.

On Monday, the police searched Jerusalem municipal offices looking for evidence of alleged compensation provided by Olmert to Talansky in exchange for cash sums Olmert is suspected of receiving from Talansky during Olmert's 10-year tenure as the capital's mayor. One suspicion is that Olmert ordered the installation of speed bumps on the street where Talansky's children and grandchildren live after the businessman-philanthropist asked him to intervene.

No new date has been set for further questioning of Olmert under caution. Detectives want to complete their questioning of various figures before renewing their interviews with the prime minister. In addition, law-enforcement authorities are also waiting to see when Talansky is to be questioned in district court. Police sources say that if Olmert's attorneys can keep Talansky from giving preliminary evidence in the affair, the detectives will delay questioning Olmert again for as long as possible.

But if Talansky ends up giving evidence in the next several days, the police are expected to get Olmert's version of events beforehand to "lock" him into a narrative before Talansky testifies - in open court - and before Olmert's lawyers have a chance to review the investigative material in preparation for their cross-examination of Talansky in court.

The police are also preparing to conduct confrontations between former Olmert bureau head Shula Zaken and attorney Uri Messer, and between Talansky and Olmert, possibly in the near future.

The state yesterday asked the Jerusalem District Court to take a statement from Talansky as soon as possible, in light of the fact that the order preventing Talansky from leaving the country expires on May 21.