Photo: Gil Yohanan
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert testified before the Jerusalem District Court Thursday in the ongoing case against him.
The testimony focused on both the "cash envelopes" and the "Rishon Tours" double billing affairs.
The former entails allegations suggesting Olmert received over $600,000 from American businessman Morris Talansky; and the latter entails fiscal improprieties regarding Olmert's trips abroad while in office.
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This was the first time Olmert commented on the Talansky case in court.
Throughout his testimony, Olmert vehemently denied Talansky's statements about the money transfers: "He donated to my 1993 and 1998 campaigns by check and was given a receipt. Even when he made other personal donations, between campaigns, cash was never involved."
Former prime minister attacks prosecution as he takes the stand at District Court hearing
The former prime minister attempted to discredit Talansky's credibility, explaining
to the court that "a lot of what he says is nonsense. Fantasies... He can be a bit of a nag. He felt he was invaluable to me.
"Let me put this a mildly as I can: when a person is a mayor of Jerusalem, when he is deputy prime minister, naturally there are people who want to be around him," he told the court.
Olmert further stresses the Talansky never loaned him any money: "This story about loans is a fantasy I can't explain. It simply never happened."
He did however, concede the fact that Talanksy did reimburse him for expenses pertaining to trips to the US, "but only two or three times"; as well as to receiving $40,000 for legal expenses in 1996.
"It was a much appreciated contribution. There was a personal connection, as it sometimes happens between people. I was grateful to him. He's a people person."
As for the "Rishon Tours' affair, Olmert shrugged off the Prosecutions allegations suggesting he tried to implicate Rachel Raz-Risby – the travel coordinator at his office at the time of the alleged offences – saying he neither "defended her nor implicated her."
"Naturally, when some things were revealed to me during the investigation I was surprised. I have every confidence and faith in her and her integrity.
"It never occurred to me then – nor does it now – that Rachel ever meant to deceive anyone," Olmert told the court.
The former prime minister asserted his innocence again saying that "if anything happened, it wasn’t something I was involved in. I didn't know."
As for the various trips' finding, Olmert told the court that "in some cases… I preferred not ask for government funding. If I could save the government the money and there was a public body willing to pay. I preferred not to ask the government."
He further said that the overall traveling instruction common in the Prime Minister's Office during his term "did not include any order to create a surplus or a deficit. If there was someone who thought they could make it cover the travel expenses by a public body… I didn’t see anything wrong with that."
He stressed he would never have allowed Discrepancies in the billing, had he been made aware of their existence.
Olmert also described the personal anguish he suffered during the lengthy investigation: "That was the hardest time of my life. I can't even describe it. You find yourself in an emotional state… you try to push it aside so not to lose balance.
"I was deeply hurt. Both as a private citizen and as the prime minister."
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