I bankrolled Olmert's taste for the high life, American businessman tells court

Morris Talansky, a US businessman, testified yesterday that he had handed over around $150,000 (£76,000) to Ehud Olmert, now Israeli Prime minister, over 15 years – including multithousand-dollar payments in envelopes stuffed with cash.

But while Mr Talansky, suspected of making illegal payments to Mr Olmert since he first campaigned to become Mayor of Jerusalem, said Mr Olmert had vainly – and voluntarily – tried to help one of his business ventures, he denied that he had asked or expected anything from Mr Olmert for his money.

Mr Talansky, 75, said the money included loans for stays in luxury hotels in the US and one – which he said was never paid back – of $25,000 to $30,000 for a family holiday in Italy. He testified in the Jerusalem district court that there were no records of how the money he transferred was spent, stating: "I only know that he loved expensive cigars. I know he loved pens, watches. I found it strange."

While seriously compounding the embattled Mr Olmert's embarrassment at being the target of yet another police investigation into possible corruption, it was not clear that the evidence given so far by Mr Talansky by itself establishes a case against the Prime Minister for bribery.

Mr Talansky said that on one occasion he used his personal credit card to pay a $4,700 hotel bill for a stay at the Ritz Carlton in Washington in 2004. Mr Olmert had called him to explain that his own credit card had "maxed out". Mr Talansky added: "He asked if he could borrow my card and he said it was part of a loan."

The businessman also said that Mr Olmert had had asked for another loan for a $15,000 hotel bill for a stay at the Regency Hotel in New York in cash rather than by cheque. He added that he walked to a bank four blocks away and withdrew the money. When he handed over the cash to Mr Olmert, he asked to be repaid as soon as possible. "Famous last words," Mr Talansky said, indicating that the loan was never repaid.

He said the cash had been paid either directly or through aides of Mr Olmert, and that some of it had been used to upgrade business class air tickets to first class.

He said the last of the payments, which date back to when Mr Olmert campaigned for the mayoralty of Jerusalem in 1993, had been in response to a request from the then industry minister for $72,500. This was to help in elections in the ruling party Likud, of which Mr Olmert was a leading figure until he joined his predecessor Ariel Sharon in forming Kadima in 2005.

Mr Talansky declared: "I was extremely shocked because it was quite a lot of money. He mentioned he was low on the [Knesset candidates'] list and needed a lot of money and I decided it was a wrap up of the money I was going to give." He said he went to the bank and took out $68,000 or $70,000. He added: "I believe that was the last that I ever gave for any campaign."

Mr Talansky said he believed that most of the money he transferred was for political campaigns but that Mr Olmert had also sought money for holidays and unrecorded personal expenses. Mr Olmert, who has said he will resign if indicted as a result of the investigations, has also said that he never took illegal campaign contributions, never took bribes and "never took a penny for myself".

Mr Talansky said that he had donated $30,000 for an unsuccessful campaign in 2002 for the Likud chairmanship. The money had been donated in four cheques in the name of Mr Talansky, his wife, son and brother after "I recall him telling me you could only give him a maximum amount per person".

He said Mr Olmert had offered to contact three billionaires including Yitzhak Tshuva, owner of the Plaza Hotel, and Sheldon Adelson, to try to interest them in becoming customers for a hotel mini-bar venture run by Mr Talansky. He said the offer had not helped and Mr Adelson, one of the richest men in the US, had slammed down the phone on him. Mr Talansky added: "I'm never going to a politician for business. He wanted to do me a favour and it never worked out."

Mr Talansky said that he greatly admired Mr Olmert as a charismatic politician who always greeted him with a big hug whenever the two men met in Jerusalem, though he had never been to Mr Olmert's home. "I had a very close relationship with him but I wish to add that the relationship of 15 years was purely of admiration."

He added: "I never expected anything personally. I never had any personal benefits from this relationship whatsoever."

Mr Talansky's testimony was not part of any court proceeding against Mr Olmert, who is still under police investigation. It was given in court because Mr Talansky is a US resident and the authorities expressed concern that he might not return to Israel to testify. At one point Mr Talansky, who has spent most of his career as a fundraiser for Jewish causes, broke into tears when he was told the hearing might have to be prolonged beyond yesterday. He said he missed his wife, who he had said was in deteriorating health at the couple's home in Long Island.

Eli Zohar, one of Mr Olmert's lawyers, said Mr Talansky's evidence was "twisted" and that the truth would be revealed at a cross examination the lawyers will conduct on 17 July.

Mr Zohar added: "In general we're saying that we are not talking about any criminal activity whatsoever."

The state attorney, Moshe Lador, said after yesterday's hearing that it was too early to make decisions about how the case would proceed.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf