Olmert lawyers question witness's political motives

Lawyers for Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert continued their onslaught Tuesday against the key witness in a corruption case against Olmert, questioning his political motives and insinuating he was a right-winger who had urged donors to support Olmert in "order to promote the notion of a Greater Land of Israel", reported dpa.

The US-based Jewish businessman and fundraiser, Morris Talansky was being subjected to a fifth day of cross-examination by Olmert's legal team over allegations he made to police in May that he gave Olmert tens of thousands of dollars in what police suspect were bribes.

Olmert's associates have for some time accused "right-wing" elements of sparking the latest police investigation, in order to force Olmert to resign and torpedo the revived peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

"I'm just interested in what you said when you went out there to raise the money. You said, 'Olmert is going to one day be the prime minister of Israel and he is going to save the country'," Olmert's attorney Nevot Tel-Tzur told Talansky. He also highlighted that Talansky had been a member of Beitar, the youth movement of the right-wing Likud Party.

"I have to tell you Mr Tel-Tzur that that is very insulting, that is very very insulting," Talansky replied when told by Tel-Tzur: "I don't believe you after five days."

"It is my last day and I am really agitated," the 75-year-old Talanksy who had sighed as he entered the Jerusalem District Court, to face a fifth day of tough questions from lawyers who are keen to discredit him.

He was also grilled again about the nature of his past business dealings with Uri Messer and one of the premier's sons, Shaul Olmert.

Olmert's legal team has highlighted contradictions in what Talansky told police investigators in May. In many instances, Talansky has claimed not being able to recall details, money transactions or documents related to the transfer of money to Olmert.

Proceedings on Tuesday began with Tel Tzur trying to show how police had "put words" in Talansky's mouth and had tried to mislead and confuse Messer, who is alleged to have received money from Talansky on Olmert's behalf.

"When you are at interrogation and they say something, in the way they are asking you, you don't know if it is a question, if it is a statement, if they are putting words in your mouth ... it is not a normal conversation," Talansky said.

In earlier cross-examination, Talansky had admitted that his police deposition was not completely true and argued that he come under immense pressure during police questioning, that investigators had "put words" in his mouth and had been made to "feel like a criminal."

In May, Talansky said he gave Olmert at least 150,000 dollars, much of it in cash stuffed in envelopes because he was asked to do so.

He said he made the payments over a period of 15 years, before Olmert was elected premier in March 2006. During that period he was mayor of Jerusalem and a cabinet minister for the hardline Likud party.

"I gave him money. I gave him loans," Talansky insisted when asked Tuesday when asked why five times previously he had said the money he had given were for his expenses and his campaigns and not loans.

"Let me add one thing - he was the mayor of Jerusalem he was a very close friend and I tried to oblige him in every possible way," Talansky said.

It was "surprising," he added, that he and Olmert no longer spoke after Olmert became prime minister despite all he had done for him and after "15 years of friendship."

Talansky, however, denied that he had become "angry" over this.

"He hasn't spoken to me since he became prime minister except once, which was very surprising to me," Talansky said.

Police are investigating whether a quid-pro-quo was expected or given in return for the cash. The premier risks charges ranging from bribe-taking to fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and breaking Israel's party funding law. He has promised to resign if an indictment is filed against him.

Israel's Jerusalem Post daily reported in May that a group of right-wing US rabbis had pushed Talansky to testify against Olmert because they feared Olmert would relinquish parts of east Jerusalem and Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

The cross-examination is part of a a pre-trial hearing, held because Talansky is a foreign resident and prosecutors have said they have no guarantee they will be able to summon him if and when a trial starts.

Olmert's lawyers were on Monday given two additional days - August 31 and September 1 - to cross-examine Talansky.

Israel's State Prosecutor on Tuesday told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that a decision on whether or not to indict Olmert would be taken "soon, perhaps even very soon."

On Tuesday, Israeli media quoted Eli Zohar, one of Olmert's attorneys, as saying, "I believe this case was launched based on key witness Talansky, and the cross-examination has turned his entire deposition into a joke. At the moment, there is nothing in this witness to support an indictment." dpa ok bve pmc ds sc

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