- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008

TEL AVIV - A U.S. millionaire testified that he gave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert cash-stuffed envelopes, statements that weakened Israel´s fragile coalition government and may deal a blow to U.S.-backed Mideast peace efforts.

Pressure mounted from both sides of the Israeli political spectrum for Mr. Olmert to quit after American businessman Morris Talansky told a Jerusalem court that he gave Mr. Olmert $150,000 in cash.

Mr. Talansky said that he provided Mr. Olmert with cash during his years as Jerusalem mayor and senior Cabinet minister and that he heeded requests to avoid using checks because of his admiration for the future prime minister.

Some of the money were loans that were never repaid, and other funds covered Mr. Olmert´s penchant for expensive cigars and first-class travel accommodations.

Though legal experts said it´s too early to say whether the testimony would be sufficient for Israel´s attorney general to order an indictment, the public fallout from the affair cast doubt on the prime minister´s capability to make any dramatic decisions on war or peace.

Mr. Olmert last week said he had renewed peace negotiations with Syria that could involve returning the strategic Golan Heights to Damascus. And yet, critics have said the prime minister´s diplomatic move is motivated by personal political expedience.

“Olmert has no moral authority to remain prime minister,”said Ran Cohen, a member of the left-wing Meretz Party and a supporter of the prime minister´s decisions to negotiate with Syria and the Palestinian Authority.

“The picture is unquestionably of corrupt behavior, and I have no reason to doubt Talansky. I will do everything to see that [Olmert] is replaced.”

Mr. Olmert, who denies any wrongdoing, has said he would resign if he is indicted.

Mr. Talansky said the funds were given without him ever asking or receiving anything in return.

The American Jewish businessman raised money for Mr. Olmert because he believed the former standout politician from Likud could “bring together the divisions” in Jerusalem and because he could “reach out to the American people.”

That´s also why he gave the funds in cash against his better judgment.

“I overlooked frankly and honestly, a lot of things. I overlooked them, maybe I shouldn´t have, but I overlooked them,” Mr. Talansky said. “Cash disturbed me. I couldn´t understand it, and I accepted the answer simply because I saw something bigger, hopefully, out there.”



Click to Read More

Click to Hide