US witness allowed to testify at preliminary hearing after he claimed fears for his safety
The Jerusalem district court Friday, May 9, approved the prosecution’s application to allow the US financier Morris Talansky, 75, from Long Island, to testify in a pre-trial hearing to handing large sums of cash to prime minister Ehud Olmert.
The court decided to open the session to the public. Talansky told the police who questioned him that he is afraid Olmert will “send people after him.”
State prosecutor Moshe Lador told the court it was inconceivable that the prime minister, who is under investigation on suspicion of accepting bribes over a long period, would try to influence the witness or alter his testimony. But because Talansky, who has known Olmert through close ties over a long period, might change his mind, it was advisable to depose him quickly.
Olmert’s attorney, Eli Zohar, complained the preliminary process prejudiced the case against his client because it was too soon for him to familiarize himself with the allegations enough to cross-examine the witness.
By the decision on an open hearing, district justice Mussia Arad has strengthened the effect of public opinion on the political and moral aspects of the case. Olmert’s first reaction after the gag order was partially lifted Thursday night, May 8, was to treat it as a strictly legal issue to be fought in court. He acknowledged receipt of large sums from Morris Talansky but insisted they funded his four election campaigns and not a cent had reached his pocket. He refused to quit office as prime minister unless indicted.
At the Talansky hearing expected next week, the naming of more American contributors who gave Olmert cash during his time as mayor of Jerusalem and minister of trade and industry from 1993 to 2000 will undoubtedly add fuel to the unprecedented scandal surrounding the first such case ever to be brought against an Israeli prime minister.