Developments of nearly soap-opera proportions in the three ongoing criminal sagas involving high-ranking political figures give Friday’s Hebrew papers much to gab about.
After Shula Zaken, ex-aide to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, signed a plea bargain with the prosecution Thursday to testify against her former boss — a mere four days before the verdict was set to be passed down — the papers have a field day parsing out the terms of the deal, the likely interrogation of Olmert, and the dramatic fallout between the two.
Yedioth Ahronoth milks the courtroom drama for all it’s worth: “They were partners, boss and confidante, seemingly inseparable. But as of yesterday, after months during which hints rose to the surface, the relationship between Ehud Olmert and Shula Zaken is over — forever,” the paper writes.
The newspaper reports that Zaken agreed to pay a NIS 100,000 fine ($28,500) and receive a prison term of 11 months, minus one day. A day was struck from the 11-month term because Zaken dismissed a similar plea-bargain proposal last year, and repeatedly insisted during the negotiations that the conditions of this deal be better than earlier offers.
Meanwhile, while the recordings Zaken gave over to the prosecution purportedly incriminate Olmert for obstruction of justice in the ongoing Holyland corruption trial, the former prime minister’s media adviser, Amir Dan, accuses the prosecution of exactly the same crime.
“This decision, right before the verdict, is nothing less than obstruction of justice of the Holyland case,” he said.
“The agreement was signed by those very same people in the prosecution who, just a few days ago, replying to the High Court, attacked Shula Zaken’s shaky credibility — on the very same testimony, and effectively said her testimony against Olmert was worthy of being thrown out.”
With the last-minute agreement and the accompanying appeal to postpone Monday’s scheduled Holyland trial verdict to a later date to allow for Zaken’s testimony, all eyes are on Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen. The unusual circumstances, with no real legal precedent in Israeli history, have experts providing conflicting predictions as to how Rozen will handle the last-minute Zaken deal, and the prosecution request to have the verdict delayed, the police question Olmert again, and Zaken testify again.
“In the end, the decision will be dependent on the strength of the request, and the strength of the evidence provided in it,” an unnamed retired judge tells Haaretz. “But if the judge has already written a ‘Guilty’ verdict, perhaps there is no point.”
On the opposite end, a defense attorney involved in the case tells the paper that “the public atmosphere and pressure won’t allow Rozen to dismiss the request.”
Israel Hayom highlights the terms of Zaken’s agreement, under which the state’s witness will confess to accepting bribes amounting to NIS 145,000 ($41,000) as well as gifts from the now-deceased key witness Shmuel Dachner; will serve 10 months, 30 days in prison; will return a ring and a pricey painting she received from Dachner; and pay a NIS 100,000 fine. In return, charges will be dropped against Zaken from previous corruption scandals.
Both Israel Hayom and Yedioth feature infographics outlining the various scenarios that could play out, based on the judge’s decision.
Should the judge extend the case, Zaken will testify and the evidence will be incorporated into a new verdict, to be handed down at a later date. In the second scenario, should Rozen choose to present the verdict as scheduled, a new case will likely be opened up against Olmert, on the obstruction-of-justice allegations. Meanwhile, the judge will revise the verdict to incorporate the terms agreed upon with Zaken.
In both scenarios, Yedioth writes, Olmert will likely be summoned to questioning and will ultimately take the stand.
Writing in Israel Hayom, columnist Dan Margalit urges Olmert to secure a plea bargain of his own to spare his family further humiliation.
“Olmert, as he is wont to do, reacted [to Shula Zaken’s plea bargain] like an experienced war horse. He rejected it, pushed back, launched a counteroffensive, denigrated it. But at night, in the dark, alone, when ‘the raven’ no longer has someone and somewhere to turn, and when he understands that continuing the campaign will bring upon his loved ones hundreds of shameful and embarrassing headlines — he should send his lawyer to State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan to negotiate a plea bargain for him as well.”
While Zaken takes top billing in all the papers, two other ongoing political scandals receive ample coverage as well — developments in the so-called Harpaz affair, and sexual assault allegations against presidential hopeful Energy Minister Silvan Shalom.
The papers report that a high-ranking official in the Defense Ministry was interrogated two days ago, amid suspicions that he was implicated in the affair and violated a breach of trust. The official was later released to house arrest for three days.
Haaretz emphasizes that the gag order on the investigation had been lifted, but does not name the suspect. Israel Hayom says the courts extended the gag order to April 10. However, Yedioth Ahronoth names the official — Deputy Director General of the Defense Ministry Betzalel Treiber, 63.
Meanwhile, the police have not yet closed the case against Likud ministerShalom, after new information emerged about other potential sexual assault allegations against the minister. Haaretz reports of one other victim, a former employee, while Yedioth says there are two.
Both stories emphasize that the women themselves have not filed complaints, but rather that the information came from a third party. Nonetheless, police are investigating the matter and have yet to close the case.
“If they file additional complaints, it will change the whole story,” a police source said, according to Yedioth.