JERUSALEM (AP) – Defense attorneys grilled the elderly American Jewish fundraiser at the center of a corruption probe against Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a second day Friday, but did not appear to have decisively undermined previous testimony that still threatens to drive Olmert from office.
Morris Talansky, 75, appeared tired and frequently exasperated in the cross-examination, which is expected to take five days. Olmert’s attorneys are trying to portray Talansky as a litigious businessman with an unsavory reputation and a faulty memory.
Talansky testified in May that he gave Olmert hundreds of thousands of dollars before he became prime minister, much of it in cash-stuffed envelopes. According to the original accusations, Olmert received the cash as bribes or illegal campaign financing, and used it in part to fund an extravagant lifestyle.
The testimony caused public outrage, damaged Olmert’s already battered credibility and led his Kadima Party to schedule new leadership elections for September. Olmert has said he will step down if indicted.
Defense attorney Eli Zohar questioned Talansky about the details of his fundraising activities for Olmert, asking about specific sums and days and whether donors gave cash or checks. He also tried to show inconsistencies between his current statements and his earlier testimony.
Zohar asked Talansky if “there could have been an error in what you remember.” “Maybe here or there,” Talansky conceded, but insisted his account overall was accurate.
Zohar tried to get Talansky to admit his memory was less than perfect. “We old people in our old age have to say we don’t remember. That’s what I expect you to say. You don’t remember,” the attorney said.
Despite some decidedly pointed exchanges, including one that featured Zohar shouting out “Again, the lie!” the defense team did not appear to achieve the dramatic reversal that observers say Olmert will need to save his political career.
For the most part, Talansky stuck to his previous testimony. And the cross-examination has so far lacked the high drama that characterized the witness’s original testimony in May.
Cross-examination is supposed to last another three days, presumably giving Olmert’s team more time to chip away at Talansky’s credibility. The court rejected the witness’ request Friday to cut questioning down to just one more day.
Olmert has managed to stay in power despite four other police corruption probes launched since he took office, and despite public dissatisfaction with his handling of Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
In an unusual move, Talansky’s testimony and cross-examination are being conducted in court before any formal charges have been filed. Prosecutors requested the step because Talansky lives in the U.S. and they were concerned he might not be available to testify at a later date.