Former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s long-time closest aide told police this week he is a crook, and that he was guilty of some of the charges for which he was acquitted in two major cases, Israeli TV broadcasts reported on Friday night.
Olmert is “corrupt,” the long-time aide, Shula Zaken, was quoted as having told police during questioning on Wednesday. She had voluntarily offered the testimony, which contradicts sworn evidence she has given over the years in several court cases.
Zaken said that Olmert had used money given to him by American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky for his private benefit — to buy suits, pens, cigars and overseas holidays — rather than for political campaign funds, in the so-called Talansky affair, Channel 2 and Channel 10 news reported. And she said Olmert knew all the details of a 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 in the so-called Rishon Tours affair, the TV stations said.
Olmert, whom Zaken reportedly told police still hopes to make a return as prime minister, was acquitted in the Talansky and Rishon Tours cases in 2012, and the state is currently appealing both verdicts.
Lawyers for the former prime minister on Friday described Zaken’s reported testimony to police as “a collection of evil lies,” and noted that state prosecutors had declined to enter a plea bargain with her in recent days, when she sought to testify in court against her former boss in exchange for a lighter sentence in another high-profile graft case, the Holyland affair.
Zaken’s legal team had been in talks with the prosecution over the past several weeks to work out a plea bargain that would have seen 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.
The prosecution said Thursday that Zaken’s offered testimony was not strong enough to justify a plea deal.
A verdict in the Holyland case is due on March 31.
On Wednesday, Zaken spent several hours being grilled by police over what she knew about Olmert’s role in the Holyland affair and other matters.
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.
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 the two other, major cases against him, the Talansky and Rishon Tours cases.
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.