A plea deal which will see a former aide to Ehud Olmert given a light prison sentence in exchange for testimony that can send the former prime minister to jail for several more years was warily accepted by the court Thursday, following a highly charged hearing.
Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen scathingly rebuked Shula Zaken for her involvement in a series of graft scandals surrounding Olmert and declared she deserved at least five years behind bars, but then said that he would not intervene in the plea bargain reached by the prosecution.
“The accused is guilty of serious and despised crimes,” Rozen said in his decision at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. “Without the plea bargain, she would serve several years in jail.”
With the plea deal, Zaken, who served as Olmert’s secretary, will be able to parlay evidence in her possession, including tapes she claimed would prove that the former prime minister obstructed justice, into a prison sentence of only 11 months for her part in the Holyland case.
“I believe the defendant deserves a severe punishment, [but] I cannot determine that the [plea bargain] exceeds the bounds of reasonableness. Even if the result is a lenient sentence, it is still reasonable,” Rozen said.
After the verdict Zaken said she accepted responsibility for what she had done.
“I stand today in court after my disgrace was exposed to the general public. This is a difficult occasion. I do not blame anyone but me, my values and the values upon which I was raised and upon which I raise my kids to this day were deeply confused,” she said.
Rozen, who came under fire for comparing Olmert to a traitor in a sentencing hearing earlier in the week that saw the former premier sent to prison for six years, seemed visibly angry during the hearing, repeatedly raking Zaken over the coals for helping Olmert and refusing to testify against him.
“She is guilty of serious crimes, did everything for the man she admired, helped Olmert as his confidante and right-hand woman. She took care of herself and took thousands of shekels in bribes as a participant in criminal activities,” he said.
Prosecutor Yonatan Tadmor defended the plea bargain as important to adding to the case against Olmert.
“Without the plea bargain we could not have used the evidence presented to us,” he said.
Rozen spent Thursday morning downplaying Zaken’s usefulness, criticizing her activities and grilling her on what she knew.
She told the court that she had transferred cash to Olmert from businessman Shmuel Dachner, who turned state’s witness and broke open the Holyland case before his death in 2013.
She also said she helped set up a meeting between Dachner and Olmert’s brother Yossi Olmert, according to an account of the hearing in the Haaretz daily.
Rozen said her evidence did not bring anything new to the table and could not make up for her involvement in the affairs.
“She is a serious criminal,” he said, adding that she was a “crime generator.”
Earlier in the hearing, the state prosecutor revealed that Zaken had handed over eight tapes recording Olmert trying to obstruct the investigation into his affairs.
The prosecutor said the information on the tapes, which dealt with Olmert’s involvement in the Holyland, Rishon Tours and Morris Talansky affairs, could be used to send Olmert to prison “for at least nine years.”
Zaken’s lawyer told Rozen that she had recorded Olmert because her family was curious about what he was calling about and she wanted to “get them off her back.”
While being questioned by Rozen, Zaken burst into tears, telling him that “Olmert used me, I lied for him.”
The hearing came two days after Rozen sentenced Olmert to six years in prison, a two-year suspended term, and a fine of NIS 1 million ($289,000) for his involvement in the Holyland graft scandal.
Rozen is the same judge who convicted Olmert, Zaken and eight others March 31, declining to wait for the state to present the evidence they had obtained from Zaken.
Despite the verdict against Olmert, police and prosecutors have been pursuing additional charges that accuse him of attempting to interfere in the state’s case against him by tampering with witnesses. The state prosecutor, based on evidence provided by Zaken, has also reopened investigations into the Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs, two cases in which Olmert was cleared two years ago.
Zaken had stood by Olmert throughout the Rishon Tours and Holyland affairs, but reportedly turned against him after the former prime minister’s attorney accused her of lying during the Holyland proceedings. Zaken was also convicted in the Rishon Tours case in which Olmert was acquitted.
The Holyland affair has been regarded as one of the worst corruption scandals in the country’s history. At the center of the case was the Holyland housing development, a hulking hilltop project that Jerusalem residents long suspected was tainted by corruption.
The case broke in 2010 after Dachner, a businessman who was involved in the project, turned state’s witness. Dachner died last year in mid-trial.