The defense attorney for ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday accused former aide Shula Zaken of having long planned to blackmail her boss, using recordings of a meeting between Zaken and her psychic to buttress the claim.
During a cross-examination at the Jerusalem District Court, the court heard a 2013 recording of a conversation with Ophira the psychic, during which Zaken complained that Olmert was not helping her financially, and warned she would “beat him up.”
Zaken also complained that her attorneys had “sold her out” to the prosecution, and that Olmert did not assist her son in finding employment. She said that Olmert had noticed she was upset, and was concerned that she would testify against him.
The psychic urged Zaken to demand what she “deserves” from Olmert, and later specifically said that she should request NIS 100,000 (about $29,000) from the former prime minister. Ophira also predicted that Olmert would go free and return to politics, leaving Zaken in the dirt.
“You need to stand up for yourself, you have to put him in his place… People love assertive people who stand up for themselves. If you don’t stand up for yourself, he will belittle you. You need to show him your power,” the psychic said.
The courtroom drama came two days after Zaken testified that she had been given large sums of money and the court heard recordings of Olmert trying to convince her not to testify in what has become known at the Talansky affair, named for American businessman and fundraiser Morris Talansky, a former close associate of Olmert.
Prosecutors are trying to use the recordings, supplied by Zaken as part of a plea bargain, to prove that Olmert took funds for illegal use and was guilty of witness tampering.
He was acquitted in the case in 2012, though later found guilty of other unrelated graft charges for which he has been sentenced to jail.
At the heart of the matter are large sums of cash Olmert gave Zaken and whether the money was intended to pay for her services as his bureau chief and cover her legal expenses, or as a bribe.
On Thursday, the defense team used recordings to prove that Zaken was told to blackmail Olmert, attempting to torpedo the prosecution’s case.
In the recording, Ophira, who’s last name was not supplied, told Zaken to approach Olmert and tell him, “no worries, there is the trial. Okay, until today I was good to you, I was dedicated to you, but no problem, if you are ungrateful, no problem, be my guest.”
To that, Zaken initially replied “I can’t snitch!” and later said “Okay, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” However, in court on Thursday, Zaken denied she ever intended to act on this advice, and said that she had only met with Ophira that one time.
During the conversation, Zaken also inquired about whether her attorneys were “good for her,” saying that they had been “disloyal” in the past and had tried to “sell her out” and agree to a plea bargain without her consent.
Ophira replied that the lawyers were “good for her” after Zaken “put them in their place.” The psychic added that the prosecutors had consulted with her on details of the case, and she had reassured them that Zaken was reliable.
“They come for premonitions, you see, because they don’t have enough proof… they come consult with a psychic, you see, how absurd is that?”
Speaking to Channel 2 on Thursday, Ophira said that she did not recall saying that Olmert would return to politics.
“I speak to souls,” she said. “They transmit messages to me, and I tell over what I receive. Sometimes there are mistakes in the premonitions, and I don’t remember saying such a thing — why should it bother me?”
The Supreme Court ordered the retrial on the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs in August, saying it would allow new testimony from Zaken who provided the information last spring as part of a plea bargain. Zaken is serving out an 11-month sentence handed down to her in May.
Olmert was accused of paying for family vacations by double billing Jewish organizations through the Rishon Tours travel agency, accepting envelopes full of cash from Talansky, and granting personal favors to attorney Uri Messer when he served as trade minister in the Investment Center case.
The charges were filed after he became prime minister in 2006, but covered his time as mayor of Jerusalem and later as a government minister. He officially resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police investigators recommended that he be indicted.
In May, Olmert was sentenced to six years in prison, a two-year suspended term, and a fine of NIS 1 million ($289,000) for accepting bribes in a separate graft case known as the “Holyland affair,” revolving around a large Jerusalem residential development, and ordered to report to prison on September 1, but the prison date was suspended pending his appeal.
The Holyland affair is considered 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 Shmuel Dachner, a businessman who was involved in the project, turned state’s witness. Dachner died from an illness in 2013, in the midst of the trial and before Olmert’s attorneys had completed their cross-examination of him.