The ongoing Holyland graft case involving former prime minister Ehud Olmert was thrown into confusion Sunday after Judge David Rozen declined to issue a ruling on extending the trial in order to enable the admission of testimony by former aide turned state’s witness Shula Zaken.
Zaken only agreed to turn state’s witness last week, four days before the expected announcement of the verdict on Monday. Zaken’s evidence against her ex-boss Olmert is connected to allegations of obstruction of justice.
Now, all sides are waiting for the Monday morning court session called by Rozen. If Rozen extends the trial to enable the inclusion of Zaken’s testimony, the much-publicized trial could last for additional weeks and even months. Should he hand down the verdict as scheduled, the state prosecution is expected to open a new case against the former prime minister centered around Zaken’s testimony. In both scenarios, Olmert would likely be subject to renewed police interrogation.
The affair involves a massive housing project allegedly pushed through with bribes to local officials, when Olmert was mayor in Jerusalem over a decade ago.
Attorneys for the state and all 16 defendants, including Jerusalem municipal officials implicated in the real estate transactions, were give a strict 4 p.m. deadline Sunday to submit arguments regarding delaying the verdict. Defendants complained when Rozen then issued a laconic notice delaying the decision until Monday, and summoned all 16 defendants to attend — but without clarifying whether the verdict would be handed down as planned or whether a decision to extend the deadline would be delivered.
“The verdict will be handed down tomorrow, whether for all the defendants, or some of them, or a hearing will be held to discuss the defendant’s request,” a statement from the court read.
The decision on incorporating new testimony this late in a trial has no precedent in Israeli jurisprudence.
Meanwhile, Olmert’s attorneys filed a petition on Sunday afternoon opposing the extension of the verdict, claiming that although he would be willing to undergo further questioning, a thorough investigation was needed to determine the nature and significance of any new evidence presented in Zaken’s testimony. Due to the advanced stages of the case, it would be a mistake to delay the verdict and attempt to hastily add Zaken’s testimony to the case, the former premier’s lawyers argued.
“A police investigation must be handled in a professional and independent manner, unrelated to other suspended legal proceedings hovering over it,” the petition read. The decision regarding the new allegations against Olmert must be made “coolly and not hastily,” they wrote.
Olmert’s attorneys characterized the late introduction of Zaken’s testimony as “a severe contamination of the criminal proceedings and a fatal blow to the rights of Mr. Olmert.”
Prosecutors reached a plea bargain with Zaken on Thursday. Under the deal, Zaken agreed to serve as a state’s witness against him and to turn over material including a recording potentially incriminating him for attempted obstruction of justice. In return, Zaken will not have to serve more than 11 months in prison.
She will be fined NIS 100,000 ($28,000) and will have to relinquish a gold ring and valuable painting she allegedly received from a central figure in the case, a key state’s witness Shmuel Dachner, who passed away during the trial.
Zaken, who is implicated along with Olmert, reached the deal with the state prosecution after several days of failed negotiations for a bargain.
In addition, Zaken promised to testify against him not only in the current Holyland real estate case but also, if needed, in the two major corruption cases in which Olmert was acquitted two years ago and which the state is in the process of appealing.
Zaken, who ran Olmert’s office both when he was mayor of Jerusalem and when he was prime minister, provided “significant” new evidence against Olmert, including recordings, documents and other material, to support allegations that he sought to obstruct justice in the Holyland affair, the state prosecution indicated.
On Thursday evening, Olmert’s lawyers described the agreement signed between Zaken and the state prosecutors on the eve of the verdict as “nothing less than obstruction of justice in the Holyland case.” They also said Olmert firmly rejected the allegations that he had sought to obstruct justice. They added that the state prosecutors evidently feared that the verdict in the Holyland case would go against them.
The new evidence, dismissed by Olmert’s lawyers as “lies” produced as part of a “witch hunt” against him, may include recordings in which Olmert allegedly seeks to dissuade Zaken from accepting an earlier plea bargain over the Holyland scandal.