Diet King Denies Slim Fast Bribes

Billionaire Says Allegations He Hid Cash Bribes in Diet Products Are 'Insulting'


May 16, 2008 —

The probe into Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's finances has all the ingredients -- alleged, of course -- of a classic Hollywood political thriller.

These include allegations of cash bribes hidden in cases of Slim Fast, bribes paid to install speed bumps on a residential street and envelopes full of cash slipped to Olmert.

And, appropriately enough, the cast of characters are almost all American.

In the last two weeks, three American businessmen have been brought in for questioning by Israeli authorities investigating alleged irregularities in Olmert's campaign fundraising.

Thursday, former New York limousine driver Avi Sherman told Israeli TV that he delivered suspected bribes, including bundles of money tucked into cases of Slim Fast diet products and cash in envelopes, to Olmert. He claimed they were given to him by S. Daniel Abraham, the founder of the diet-food empire.

Abraham, a billionaire and longtime Democratic fundraiser, strongly denied the allegations, telling Army Radio, "Of course I never gave any money to Ehud Olmert. The very question is insulting to me. This is my reputation at risk and I have no reason to risk it."

Abraham stressed that he was questioned by police as a witness rather than a suspect and that he didn't even recognize the driver when police introduced Sherman to him.

Some of the irregular contributions were reportedly transferred through the New Jerusalem Foundation, a charity founded by Olmert in 1999, which raises money for Israeli causes. The foundation's treasurer, New York businessman Morris Talansky, was deposed last week by authorities probing allegations that he gave $480,000 in bribes to Olmert and others.

Zvi Raviv, the former director general of the group, told that the charity "did not transfer one single cent for any political purposes, with or without Talansky," explaining that "there was no hanky-panky, no bulls***."

Raviv, who hired Talansky as the group's treasurer in the United States, also emphasized that the foundation was never asked to transfer money to Olmert.

He explained that Abraham once made a contribution of $50,000 to NJF by successfully bidding on a mosaic lion artwork at a charity auction in Florida in 2004. "The entire sum went to finance Tzamid, a project for children with disabilities in Jerusalem," Raviv explained.

Raviv's wife, Sheila, refuted recent reports that Talansky bribed Olmert to install speed bumps on a street near the home of Talansky's son in Jerusalem. "They don't mention the fact that it's the chief rabbi's house -- that's why there are speed bumps in the street."

Abraham, who is already back in the offices of his foundation in Palm Beach was not available for comment.

Talansky, who denied trying to bribe Olmert and told reporters he believed all contributions were legal, is scheduled to give a court deposition May 25. And he told police officers that he feared the prime minister would "send someone to harm him," according to state prosecutor Moshe Lador.

Olmert has denied all the allegations.

Earlier this week, Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino mogul from Las Vegas, was also questioned by police about his ties to Talansky.

The tycoon, a top Republican fundraiser, was the chief moneyman behind the Freedom's Watch organization, which spent millions last summer to promote the Bush administration's troop surge in Iraq.

At a gala celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary Wednesday night, Adelson sat in the front row next to President Bush, Laura Bush, Olmert and other top officials. He preceded Bush to the stage, praising him as "the most supportive" president Israel has ever known.

Adelson has played an active role in Israeli politics, publishing the free conservative newspaper Yisrael Hayom that's delivered to many homes in the country. Ironically, he is supporting former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a contender to replace Olmert.

A spokesperson for Adelson confirmed that he had been contacted by authorities to offer his insights into the investigation and that Adelson told him his involvement amounts to "a tempest in a teapot."