Olmert in cri­sis

Kadimah in­ner cir­cle to dis­cuss fu­ture

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER JERUSALEM

THE PRES­SURE on Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert to leave of­fice greatly in­ten­si­fied this week af­ter Defence Min­is­ter Ehud Barak de­manded that he re­sign or sus­pend him­self from the premiership un­til the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his al­leged bribe-tak­ing was over.

Se­nior min­is­ters of Mr Olmert’s rul­ing Kadimah Party will meet over the week­end to dis­cuss how the party should re­spond to the Labour leader’s de­mand, is­sued at a press con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day, a day af­ter the pre­lim­i­nary tes­ti­mony of busi­ness­man Mor­ris Talan­sky in the Jerusalem Dis­trict Court.

Mr Talan­sky, the Long Is­land fundraiser who is a cen­tral wit­ness in the cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion against Mr Olmert, gave ev­i­dence de­spite there not be­ing yet an in­dict­ment, be­cause he had asked to be al­lowed to go to his home in the US.

In a seven-hour long ap­pear­ance be­fore the court, Mr Talan­sky chron­i­cled 15 years of friend­ship with the man he knew first as Health Min­is­ter, then Mayor of Jerusalem, Trade and then Trea­sury Min­is­ter and fi­nally Prime Min­is­ter.

Dur­ing this time, Mr Talan­sky told the court, he gave Mr Olmert over $150,000 (£75,000) cash in en­velopes. A large part of this money went to fi­nance Mr Olmert’s po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, in Likud pri­maries, but also to pay for a hol­i­day in Italy for Mr Olmert and his wife, plane-ticket up­grades to first-class, and a three-day stay at the Ritz-Carl­ton Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton.

Mr Talan­sky also told how Uri Messer, Mr Olmert’s for­mer lawyer and law­firm part­ner, asked him for a loan of $300,000 (£150,000) to cover a deficit in the ac­count of one of Mr Olmert’s cam­paigns.

Mr Messer, an­other cen­tral fig­ure in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, has been ques­tioned re­peat­edly and is ex­pected to turn state’s wit­ness.

Mr Talan­sky’s emo­tional tes­ti­mony be­fore an open court made the al­le­ga­tions come to life for Is­raelis.

He in­sisted that there was no el­e­ment of bribery in his ac­tions, and aside from try­ing to put him in con­tact with Jewish busi­ness­men, Mr Olmert did noth­ing in re­turn for the money.

“I al­ways ad­mired Ehud Olmert,” he told the court. “He was well-spo­ken and in­tel­li­gent, they called him ‘the prince of the Likud.’ I be­lieved he could save the peo­ple of Is­rael, I re­ally loved the man.”

Po­lice and the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral’s of­fice are con­vinced Mr Talan­sky’s tes­ti­mony, along with the other wit­nesses and ev­i­dence, will be suf­fi­cient to in­dict Mr Olmert within a few months

Mr Barak is not pre­pared to wait that long. On Wed­nes­day, he an­nounced at a press con­fer­ence that “in light of the sit­u­a­tion and the chal­lenges fac­ing the coun­try — Ha­mas, Hizbol­lah, Syria, Iran, cap­tured sol­diers — I don’t think the Prime Min­is­ter can run the coun­try and at the same time take care of his own per­sonal is­sues. There­fore, for the good of the coun­try and proper norms, the Prime Min­is­ter must cut him­self off from the day-to-day run­ning of the gov­ern­ment soon.”

Mr Barak called on the lead­ers of Kadima to un­der­take “a reck­on­ing” and ap­point a new leader that Labour could do busi­ness with.

Sources in Mr Olmert’s of­fice said that he had no plans to re­sign un­less an in­dict­ment against him were served. But se­nior min­is­ters in the party have been meet­ing since to try to work out a joint strat­egy. Some of the meet­ings took place in the of­fice of Knes­set Speaker Dalya Itzik, who urged col­leagues not to at­tack Mr Olmert openly.

The lead­ing con­tender to re­place Mr Olmert is his deputy, For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Livni. At an event in Jerusalem on Wed­nes­day, she said that “the na­tion has a vi­sion and val­ues, which ob­li­gate its cit­i­zens and also its lead­ers”.

If Mr Olmert re­signs, pri­maries in Kadima will take place for a new leader. Trans­port Min­is­ter Shaul Mo­faz, In­te­rior Min­is­ter Meir Sheetrit and In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Avi Dichter will also be in the run­ning.

PHOTO: FLASH 90

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert at the Knes­set in Jerusalem this week

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