Wednesday, 28 May 2008

L.I. man tells how Israel's Ehud Olmert borrowed cash - and never returned it

Wednesday, May 28th 2008

By MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem

Breaking down in tears, a Long Island businessman described Tuesday
how he gave the future Israeli prime minister envelopes stuff with
cash - and never got a nickel back.

"I figured we don't need notes from him," Morris Talansky, 75, said.
"His word was gold. He was a friend, a very close friend."

Talansky, who testified before a panel of judges and a prosecutor who
is weighing possible corruption charges against Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert, said giving him $150,000 in cash "disturbed" him but
insisted the money was a "loan."

Olmert's promises to pay them back turned out to be "famous last
words," Talansky said.

"I asked him why I couldn't write a check and he said it's because of
the way the money is channelled," he said.

So while Olmert waited in his Manhattan hotel room, "I went to a bank
near the hotel and made a withdrawal," Talansky said. "I gave him the
money in an envelope because it was a sizeable amount."

Sometimes, said Talansky, he passed money to Olmert via his private
secretary, Shula Zaken.

Talansky said he loaned Olmert $25,000 to finance a family vacation in
Italy in 2004. He said he suspected his Israeli friend was using his
money to live large.

"He loved expensive cigars," he said. "I know he loved pens, watches.
I found it strange."

Talansky insisted he "never had any personal benefits from this
relationship whatsoever." But he conceded that Olmert offered to help
him with his mini-bar business.

"It never even occurred to me that I would have any personal stake,"
he said. "I truly loved him."

When the money trail from Talansky was exposed this month, Olmert
insisted he wasn't a crook and said the money was used to finance
successful 1993 and 1998 campaigns to be elected Jerusalem mayor and
his failed 2003 run to lead the Likud Party.

Olmert, who has been in office for two years, said he would step down
if he is indicted.

President Bush has called him an "honest man."

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