"I have gone through much pain and distress to get here," he said. "What I'm telling you connects to who I am – not who I was made out to be… It's very very important that you get to know the man that I believe I am."
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Olmert, who is being charged with fraud and breach of trust, was expected to reveal his defense strategy during the hearing. On Monday he requested the hearing to be postponed for medical reasons, but the judges rejected his plea. His testimony is expected to last a number of sessions.
After telling his life story, Olmert was asked by his attorney to specify why he chose Shula Zaken, who is being tried alongside him, as his bureau chief in the first place.
"I was older, she was a young woman," he said. "We thought that she was the most qualified. She was just waiting for that moment… She came a long way, became the chief of the Prime Minister's Office."
Olmert in court (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Olmert described Zaken as a confidant whom he trusted with all maters. "There were cases she was authorized to sign my checks. She had my check book."
Olmert said that when he opened his law firm with attorney Uri Messer, where Zaken also worked, he trusted the two completely. He said that he did not deal with the firm's financial matters, and even used to sign checks without examining them.
Some of the charges against Olmert touch upon alleged funds that he received from US businessman Moris Talansky. In his testimony, Olmert said that he was introduced to Talansky through donors who contributed to his mayoral campaign in the early 1990s. "He wasn't the only one (raising funds) for me but he certainly seemed as a conduit, so I was very happy," Olmert said. He added that he never imagined that Talansky was lacking the "ability, honesty and professionalism that are required of those working in public positions."
He noted that "the positions that I hold today politically are not… I came a long way since those days."
Olmert's charges are composed of alleged misconduct in three different cases. In the first, known as the "Rishon Tours" affair, Olmert is accused of systematically double and triple billing public institutions and the state for trips that he took abroad. The prosecution claims that he used the money to finance family members' private trips.
The third case alleges Olmert's improper involvement with the Israel Investments Center during his tenure as industry and trade minister.
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