Key witness in Olmert money scandal testifies to court

May 27th, 2008 - 7:03 pm ICT by admin  

Jerusalem, May 27 (DPA) The key witness in the new corruption case against Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert began testifying in a Jerusalem court Tuesday. The pre-trial cross-examination of Morris Talansky, held in English, was expected to last some seven hours. Prosecutors had pressed for the early deposition, because they fear Talansky, a US national, may not return to Israel if and when a trial begins.

Olmert is suspected of illegally taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Talansky, much of it in cash - in envelopes - and without proper reporting to authorities.

The police first questioned the Israeli premier on the affair - which has already become known in Israel as “the money envelopes” - three weeks ago, and again on Friday.

The Jerusalem District Court Friday also rejected Olmert’s requests to delay Talansky’s deposition.

Talansky, a fundraiser and businessman from Long Island, is a US national. He has been in Israel since April but an injunction against his leaving the country is due to expire.

He is to testify on behalf of the prosecution Tuesday. Olmert’s attorneys are entitled to cross-examine him the next day, but have said they will not do so, complaining they were not given enough time to study the material collected by police investigators in the case. The defence has said it would like Talansky to return to Israel at a later date, probably in July, for his cross-examination.

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing, saying all the money given to him by Talansky were donations gathered on his behalf and used to retroactively cover debts of four different election campaigns when he ran for mayor of Jerusalem and for the leadership of his former Likud party. He said he did not keep any of it.

Olmert said he would resign if an indictment is filed against him. Possible charges could range from illegal election fundraising and tax evasion by failing to report income, to fraud, breach of trust, bribery or money laundering.

Meanwhile, an Israeli legislator who caused outrage in Israel for indicating that Premier Ehud Olmert deserved the death penalty for returning the Golan Heights to Syria, refused to retract his remarks Tuesday and said he had based his comments on the law.

“I do not apologise for my remarks,” Ariyeh Eldad, of the National Religious Party, told Israel Army Radio.

On Monday the legislator had sparked a furore, even within his own hardline National Religious Party, when he said that whoever acted to remove lands from the state’s control and from its territories should be sentenced to death.

The comments came in wake of the announcement last week that Israel and Damascus have renewed peace talks, prompting speculation that Olmert has agreed to return the Golan Heights.

Israeli forces had captured the Golan, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, in the 1967 war, and annexed it in 1981. Polls show a majority of Israeli oppose handing the entire territory back to Syria.

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