American Jewish businessman Moshe Talansky
American Jewish businessman Moshe TalanskyIsrael News Photo: Flash90

American Jewish philanthropist and businessman Moshe Talansky testified before the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert requested contributions in the form of cash to his various political campaigns.

Talansky recounted that in 1992, he offered to write Olmert checks for his campaign, but was told to give cash

Talansky testified that Messer had at one point asked him to sign a promise to hand over $300,000.

instead. He said that he knew some of the money was used for "expensive cigars and expensive pens." Despite the thousands of dollars that both Olmert and Talansky admit changed hands, the New York native told the court, "I never received anything, and I never expected anything [in exchange]."

During his pre-trial testimony, given before three judges, Talansky recounted meeting Olmert during the First Gulf War, when the latter was Minister of Health. "We became close," Talansly said. "I saw that he wanted to run for mayor of Jerusalem, that he believed in a strong, united city... I had great admiration for him. We used to call him 'the prince of Likud.' I truly loved him. The most important thing for me was the unity of Jerusalem."

When asked why he "loved" the then-Likud politician, Talansky replied that, for him, Olmert represented someone who could unite the religious and secular sectors of Israeli society.

For his part, Prime Minister Olmert has claimed the money received from Talansky was used to cover campaign debts, saying that his friend and attorney Uri Messer handled the donations. Olmert is suspected of fraud and breach of public trust. It is not yet clear if the money transfers involved bribery.

Talansky testified that Messer had at one point asked him to sign a promise to hand over $300,000. Talansky said he responded, "Are you crazy?" but later signed a note for a smaller sum of money. He said he did not know what he had signed, but that Messer assured him, "You can count on me. I am your lawyer and Olmert's lawyer."

Olmert received more than $150,000 from Talansky, according to Tuesday's testimony, but that part of it was to be repaid. Talansky said he never received any reimbursement, including more than $4,000 he paid for a three-night stay by the Prime Minister and his wife at a Washington Hotel and $15,000 for a stay at the posh Regency Hotel in New York.

At one point during his testimony, Talansky broke down and cried, saying he wanted to return to the United States and be with his ill wife. Following his testimony, Talansky will be free to fly home. The American Jewish businessman will be asked to return to face cross-examination by defense counsel, since Olmert's attorneys said they had not been given enough time to study the legal material. The court rejected a request by prosecutors that Prime Minister Olmert also appear at the hearing, in order to respond to Talansky's statements.

Talansky's appearance in court was part of a legal arrangement allowing trial testimony to be given ahead of the decision to prosecute in the event that obtaining testimony at the time of trial is expected to be difficult. The testimony will become part of the record for any future legal proceeding in the Olmert corruption case, but will not be used against Talansky himself. The State Prosecutor's Office, meanwhile, said that it was too early to tell whether or not the State will be able to use the Talansky testimony in any potential trial.