A one-time top aide to former prime minister Ehud Olmert won’t be allowed to testify against her former boss in exchange for a lighter sentence in a high-profile graft case, the State Prosecutor’s Office said late Thursday night.
Shula Zaken’s legal team had been in talks with the prosecution over the past several weeks to work out a plea bargain that would see her turn state’s witness in the Holyland case, in which Olmert is accused of taking bribes to push through a major residential development as mayor of Jerusalem a decade ago.
However, the prosecution said Zaken’s offered testimony was not strong enough to justify a plea deal.
A verdict in the Holyland case is expected March 31.
On Wednesday, Zaken spent several hours being grilled by police over what she knew about Olmert’s role in the Holyland affair.
The Justice Ministry said in a statement that the decision was made both because the trial had already passed the stage when new testimony could be given and because Zaken’s offered testimony had no “outside documentation” to back it up.
Zaken’s legal team panned the decision, saying the state had passed up on a chance to expose all the wrongdoing that had happened while she served as Olmert’s bureau chief.
“She held out her hand to the state and the state refused to take it,” a member of the legal team said, according to the Ynet news website. “We hope the decision will be overturned in the future, in light of the mistake that has taken place.”
Olmert’s lawyer praised the move. “Now what we’ve said over and over has become clear, that nothing stands behind the exaggerated statements,” Amir Dan said, according to the website.
Various reports had claimed Zaken would have received either community service or a 16-month sentence under the deal, or that charges against her would be dropped entirely. She had previously rejected a plea-bargain offer for an 11-month sentence.
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.
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, now-deceased state’s witness Shmuel Dachner in 2004 had 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 kick-start 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.