In a plea bargain signed Thursday, Shula Zaken, the longtime aide to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, promised to testify against him 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.
The plea bargain was finalized only five days ahead of Monday’s scheduled verdict in the Holyland case, which has been running for two years. Under the deal, Zaken will not have to serve more than 11 months in prison for her role in the real estate corruption scandal, in which she was facing a possible multi-year jail term if convicted. She will be fined NIS 100,000 ($28,000) and will have to relinquish a gold ring and valuable painting she allegedly received from a central figure in the case, the deceased central state’s witness Shmuel Dachner.
In legal maneuverings with no known precedent in Israel, the prosecution appealed to the Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday afternoon to delay its scheduled delivery of a verdict in the Holyland case this coming Monday. Instead, it sought permission to call Zaken to give new testimony to the court in the case. Ahead of that, it also sought the court’s leave to summon Olmert for “immediate” questioning by police, under caution, over the new allegations.
The Tel Aviv court judge David Rozen gave the two sides until Sunday afternoon to present their arguments to him over the request.
Olmert’s lawyers Thursday evening 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.
Zaken’s new evidence, dismissed by Olmert’s lawyers as “lies” produced as part of a “witch hunt” against him, ostensibly includes recordings in which Olmert allegedly seeks to dissuade Zaken from accepting a plea bargain earlier in the proceedings over the Holyland scandal. The affair involves a massive housing project allegedly pushed through with bribes to local officials, when Olmert was mayor in Jerusalem over a decade ago.
The new evidence could be used to file obstruction of justice and other charges against Olmert, prosecutors said.
Zaken’s lawyers said Thursday evening that they were now working “side by side” with the state prosecution “to expose the entire phenomenon of corruption” in high places, and said Zaken had “crossed the Rubicon” despite the “extraordinary pressures” placed upon her. Lawyer Ofer Bartal said Zaken was now ready “to testify to the police and to any court as required… We will not place any obstacles.” Asked her if her testimony could affect other legal proceedings against Olmert, Bartal said that was for the prosecutors to decide.
Media reports late Thursday indicated that Zaken’s testimony could prove relevant in the Rishon Tours and Talansky cases — two major corruption cases in which Olmert was acquitted in 2012 and which the state is appealing to the Supreme Court.
In contacts with state prosecutors several weeks ago, Zaken was said to have alleged that Olmert put money given to him by the American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky to private use — to buy suits, pens, cigars and overseas holidays — rather than using it as political campaign funds.
She also reportedly said Olmert knew all the details of an alleged double billing scheme for his various trips abroad, the so-called Rishon Tours affairs, under which more than one organization would sponsor the same trip, allegedly allowing the former prime minister to accrue funds which he used to finance family flights and upgrades to first class.
Stuart Winer and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.