Advocates for Shula Zaken, longtime aide of ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert, dismissed claims Tuesday that now-deceased state’s witness Shmuel Dachner had approached Zaken with bribes, instead insisting that Dachner attempted to bribe Olmert personally.
“Dachner was not in need of Zaken’s services, due to her lack of [political] power and the fact Dachner himself claimed that he paid bribes to Ehud Olmert — Zaken’s employer,” Zaken’s attorney Ofer Bartal said in a hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court.
“After you bribe the person who has the authority, to bribe Zaken would just be a waste of money,” he continued.
The Holyland affair, billed as Israel’s largest corruption scandal, revolves around a real estate development project in which dozens of Jerusalem city officials, including Olmert, are accused of accepting bribes. The Holyland initiative spawned an extensive Jerusalem building project whose developers allegedly were able to far exceed their original mandate by paying off officials.
Bartel said he was not trying to claim Zaken was completely innocent with regard to all of the charges leveled against her, but added that her offenses were minor and that she had only been acting on Olmert’s instructions.
“Shula Zaken is no saint, and we do not intend to argue that her acts are clean in terms of public hygiene,” he said. “[But] Shula Zaken’s only real role was carrying out what Ehud Olmert said.”
The testimony indicated a growing rift between Zaken and Olmert, after years during which she refused to offer any damning testimony regarding her former boss.
Olmert was sentenced in September 2012 to a suspended yearlong jail term and a NIS 75,000 fine ($21,000), following his conviction for a separate, relatively minor breach of trust charge stemming from his time as a government minister, and was cleared in two other, major cases against him also unrelated to the Holyland affair.
According to allegations in the Holyland case, Dachner in 2004 given Zaken NIS 100,000 (about $28,000) in the form of five checks. The prosecution asserted that the checks were given to Zaken in order to persuade her to help kickstart a project for one of Dachner’s companies.
For her part, Zaken claimed that she had a personal relationship with Dachner and received gifts from him, but not bribes. Zaken’s defense also stated that three of the five checks received from Dachner were used to pay back debt from Olmert’s election campaign.
On Monday Zaken’s son Nadav launched a scathing Facebook attack on Olmert, saying the former prime minister had “sold out” his mother in order to save his own skin.
“I’m so curious to know if he who ‘does not notice anyone,’ he who ‘tramples’ others in order to apparently realize his future political ambitions, he who ‘betrayed and abandoned,’ will show his face tomorrow [in court],” Nadav Zaken wrote.
Olmert did not attend Tuesday’s court hearing.