The state’s star witness in the Holyland bribery affair against former prime minister Ehud Olmert and others died early Friday morning, following a day of grueling testimony at Tel Aviv District Court.
The man known only as “Shin Daled” to the public (due to a court-ordered gag order) was 76 years old and in poor health, following several hospitalizations before and during the years-long legal saga. Since July, the witness had testified in over 70 hearings, most of them lasting several hours.
It was not immediately clear how the witnesses’s death would affect Olmert, who is only one of several defendants in the case. Some legal analysts said Friday they believe his demise marks “a death blow” for the state prosecution.
Shin Daled reportedly complained on numerous occasions to the presiding judge in the case, David Rosen, that he could not physically sustain such long sessions. This week, he said he was unsure whether he’d live to undergo an additional hospitalization and treatment scheduled for later in March.
Shin Daled, who in recent days was undergoing cross-examination, exploded angrily on Thursday at Olmert’s defense attorney, Roy Blecher, directing a host of epithets at him, according to Channel 1. The report noted that on Wednesday, Judge Rosen had characterized Blecher’s questioning as “gentle and polite.”
Amnon Yitzhakni, the dead man’s attorney, said Friday night it was “too harsh” to suggest that the judge was responsible for his death, but said not enough had been done in the handling of his testimony to safeguard the witness’s health effectively.
At approximately 4 a.m. local time Friday, Shin Daled complained to his wife that he was not feeling well. He was taken by a Magen David Adom team to Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center, where his death was confirmed. Hospital officials said he died of natural causes.
Much of the case hinges on Shin Daled’s testimony and it was not immediately clear how the court would proceed with the trial. Prosecutors, however, said Friday that they would continue trying the case as planned, but that the star witness’s crucial testimony would now carry less weight.
The Holyland affair, billed as Israel’s largest corruption scandal, revolves around a real estate development project in which dozens of city officials, including Olmert, who was mayor of Jerusalem at the time, are accused of accepting bribes. The Holyland project spawned an extensive Jerusalem development whose initiators allegedly were able to far exceed their original mandate by paying off officials.
Olmert, who stepped down as prime minister in 2009 to fight corruption allegations, was convicted of breach of trust in a separate case last July. In addition to the Holyland scandal, the state is appealing his recent acquittals in the so-called Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs.
Nonetheless, Olmert had indicated prior to January’s Knesset elections that he was seriously contemplating a return to politics.
Some opinion polls leading up to the elections had suggested that the former prime minister and ex-Kadima party chief, leading the Israeli center-left, could draw more votes than the existing mix of parties in that part of the spectrum.
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