The Tel Aviv District Court was scheduled on Monday morning at 9 a.m. to announce whether the Holyland graft trial involving former prime minister Ehud Olmert will be extended to admit new testimony by his former aide turned state’s witness, Shula Zaken. If he doesn’t extend the trial, Judge David Rozen will hand down a verdict for Olmert and the other 12 defendants in the case.
Zaken only turned state’s witness last week, a mere four days before the date for the announcement of the verdict, after she accused Olmert — in addition to allegations pertaining to the Holyland trial and other, already decided cases — of obstruction of justice.
If Rozen extends the trial so that Zaken’s testimony can be heard, the much-publicized trial could last for additional weeks and even months. Should he hand down the verdict as scheduled, the state prosecution is expected to open a new case against the former prime minister centered around Zaken’s allegations of obstruction of justice. Either way, Olmert will likely be subject to renewed police interrogation.
The Holyland affair involves a massive housing project allegedly pushed through with bribes to local officials, when Olmert was mayor in Jerusalem over a decade ago.
Attorneys for the state and all 16 defendants, including Jerusalem municipal officials implicated in the real estate transactions, were give a strict 4 p.m. deadline Sunday to submit arguments regarding delaying the verdict. Defendants complained when Rozen then issued a laconic notice delaying his decision until Monday, and summoned all 16 defendants to attend — but without clarifying whether the verdict would be handed down as planned or whether a decision to extend the deadline would be delivered.
“The verdict will be handed down tomorrow, whether for all the defendants, or some of them, or a hearing will be held to discuss the defendant’s [Zaken’s] request” to extend the trial, a statement from the court read.
A decision on incorporating new testimony so late in a trial would have no precedent in Israeli jurisprudence.
Meanwhile, Olmert’s attorneys filed a petition on Sunday afternoon opposing the extension of the verdict, claiming that although he would be willing to undergo further questioning, a thorough investigation was needed to determine the nature and significance of any new evidence presented in Zaken’s testimony. Due to the advanced stages of the case, it would be a mistake to delay the verdict and attempt to hastily add Zaken’s testimony to the case, the former premier’s lawyers argued.
“A police investigation must be handled in a professional and independent manner, unrelated to other suspended legal proceedings hovering over it,” the petition read. The decision regarding the new allegations against Olmert must be made “coolly and not hastily,” they wrote.
Olmert’s attorneys characterized the prosecution’s late move to introduce Zaken’s testimony as “a severe contamination of the criminal proceedings and a fatal blow to the rights of Mr. Olmert.”
Under a plea bargain signed on Thursday, Zaken agreed to serve as a state’s witness against Olmert and to turn over material including a recording potentially incriminating him for obstruction of justice and tampering with a witness — he allegedly attempted to dissuade her from accepting an earlier plea bargain over the Holyland scandal.
In return, Zaken will serve no more than 11 months in prison. She will also be fined NIS 100,000 ($28,000) and will have to relinquish a gold ring and valuable painting she allegedly received as a bribe from a key figure in the case, state’s witness Shmuel Dachner, who died during the trial.
Zaken, who is implicated along with Olmert, reached the deal with the state prosecution after several days of failed negotiations for a bargain.
In addition, Zaken promised to testify against Olmert not only in the current Holyland real estate case but also, if needed, in the two major corruption cases in which Olmert was acquitted two years ago and which the state is in the process of appealing.
Zaken, who ran Olmert’s office both when he was mayor of Jerusalem and when he was prime minister, provided “significant” new evidence against Olmert, including recordings, documents and other material, to support allegations that he sought to obstruct justice in the Holyland affair, the state prosecution indicated.
On Thursday evening, Olmert’s lawyers described the agreement signed between Zaken and the state prosecutors on the eve of the verdict as “nothing less than obstruction of justice in the Holyland case.” They also said Olmert firmly rejected the allegations that he had sought to obstruct justice. They added that the state prosecutors evidently feared that the verdict in the Holyland case would go against them.