Olmert offered aide $10,000 a month to serve jail time

Former prime minister heard trying to bribe Shula Zaken to take the blame for corruption case in newly released recordings

Ehud Olmert and Shula Zaken, September 2011. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Ehud Olmert and Shula Zaken, September 2011. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert offered to pay aide Shula Zaken $10,000 for every month she served in prison instead of him, according to new recordings cleared for publication by the Supreme Court Thursday.

In one of the eight recordings handed over to the prosecution by Zaken, Olmert can be heard assuring his former aide that her family would be taken care of if she were convicted and sentenced for receiving bribes and money laundering in the Holyland real estate graft case.

“I have arranged for you to receive $10,000 a month, but he [Rami Ungar, an Olmert associate] is only willing to pay you in a foreign bank account,” Olmert said and went on to promise Zaken further compensation if he was able to raise the funds.

In another conversation recorded after Zaken was offered a plea bargain, Olmert warns her that she would not withstand the mental stress of the questioning that would be required of her. He also tells her that a plea bargain could be used as evidence against him in other criminal charges he faced.

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 the Holyland case, 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.

In the recordings, Olmert can also be heard talking about buying Sheldon Adelson’s testimony, even though he said he did not trust the Jewish-American billionaire. He told Zaken angrily that Adelson told former US president George W. Bush that Olmert was a traitor.

“Adelson – this dog, son of a dog – went to President Bush and said that I’m a traitor. Bush told me,” Olmert said.

The eight recordings are key pieces of evidence in the reopened case against Olmert and attorney Navot Tel Zur for obstruction of justice and witness tampering, when the two allegedly tried to dissuade Zaken from testifying against her former boss during the Holyland trial.

Ultimately, Zaken decided to testify against him in the case, where she and Olmert were both eventually convicted.

Zaken is serving out an 11-month sentence handed down to her in May.

In response to the release of the recordings, Olmert’s legal team claimed that Zaken’s recordings were her attempt to evade prosecution for her part in the Holyland affair, and claimed that she baited him into making incriminating statements.

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.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report

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