Former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s long-time top aide Shula Zaken may testify against her ex-boss after all, if she agrees to offer additional testimony that is more substantive than what she has offered thus far.
According to Channel 10 news, contacts between the prosecution and Zaken have been renewed in recent days, and it is possible that she has already revealed new information about Olmert to state lawyers.
Prosecution attorneys must move quickly, as a verdict in the Holyland case is due on March 31, and district and state prosecutors must evaluate the new testimony by Thursday.
Zaken’s legal team had been in talks with the prosecution several weeks ago to work out a plea bargain that would have seen her turn state’s witness in the case, in which Olmert (then mayor of Jerusalem) and others are accused of taking bribes to push through the Holyland project, a major residential development, a decade ago.
However, the prosecution said at the time that Zaken’s offered testimony was not strong enough to justify a plea deal. The Justice Ministry said in a statement that the decision to decline her late-stage testimony was made both because the trial had already passed the stage when new testimony could normally be given and because Zaken’s offered testimony had no “outside documentation” to back it up.
Olmert is “corrupt,” the long-time aide was quoted as having told police during questioning three weeks ago. She had voluntarily offered the testimony, which contradicted sworn evidence she has given over the years in several court cases.
Zaken said that Olmert had 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 for political campaign funds. She also said Olmert knew all the details of an alleged double billing scheme for his various trips abroad, under which more than one organization would fund a trip, allowing the former prime minister to accrue funds which he used to finance family flights and upgrades to first class.
Olmert was acquitted of those allegations in 2012, and the state is currently appealing both verdicts.
The High Court of Justice rejected earlier Tuesday a petition by a nonprofit watchdog group to force the prosecution to allow Zaken to give last-minute testimony against Olmert. The Movement for Quality Government had appealed for Zaken to be accepted as a state’s witness against her former boss, but the High Court said the petition was lacking in factual justification.
“The petition itself demonstrates that it is based on assumptions, estimates, speculation and other publications which are from the media,” summed up presiding Justice Yitzhak Amit. “The petitioner does not claim to know the contents of the announcement by Mrs. Zaken to the police, and thus did not explain its appeal.”
Stuart Winer and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.