The cross-examination of key witness Morris Talansky that began yesterday (Thursday) in Jerusalem and will continue into next week is expected to be Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s last chance to save his political future.
Mr Talansky, the Long Island businessman who police suspect was the conduit for illegal payments to Mr Olmert, gave a deposition two months ago in which he told how he passed cash-filled envelopes to Mr Olmert and his lawyer, Uriel Messer. Yesterday was to be the defence team’s first chance to try to alter the devastating impression caused by that testimony.
Following it, Labour chairman and Defence Minister Ehud Barak issued an ultimatum to the Kadima Party that if it would not appoint a new leader, Labour would leave the coalition and support early elections.
Mr Olmert agreed to hold leadership primaries in Kadima in September but still maintains that he will resign only if indicted. Of the four Kadima ministers who are planning to run for the party’s leadership, only Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter has publicly called upon Mr Olmert to resign. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the current frontrunner in the polls, has said so privately on a number of occasions.
Arriving in Israel, Mr Talansky told reporters not to “expect any big drama, I am just coming to tell my story”.
Meanwhile, two new cases of alleged corruption have come to light. On Friday, police investigators questioned Mr Olmert for the third time and surprised him by bringing up details of one of the new cases. They suspect him of raking off $100,000 (£50,000) from payments transferred by various private organisations that invited him to give talks outside Israel. Police suspect that Mr Olmert had different organisations pay simultaneously for plane tickets and hotel costs, thereby accumulating a secret fund that financed family trips. Mr Olmert’s lawyers have countered that the family trips were paid for with frequent-flyer miles.
Another case is of an alleged loan of $75,000 (£37,500) that Mr Olmert received in 1993 from Jewish-American millionaire Joe Almaliach and allegedly failed to return.