37 lawyers’ visits to Olmert prompt change in prison rules
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37 lawyers’ visits to Olmert prompt change in prison rules

Prisons Service suspects former PM’s friends were pretending to be his attorneys in order to see him

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert (L) arrives at Ma'asiyahu Prison in the central Israeli city of Ramle on February 15, 2016 as he begins serving a 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice. (AFP/Jack Guez)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert (L) arrives at Ma'asiyahu Prison in the central Israeli city of Ramle on February 15, 2016 as he begins serving a 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice. (AFP/Jack Guez)

The Israel Prisons Service has rewritten the rules for prisoner visitation rights after it was revealed that no fewer than 37 defense attorneys had visited jailed former prime minister Ehud Olmert during his first four months in prison.

According to Channel 10, the visitors were not actually serving as Olmert’s defense attorneys — the reasons they gave for requesting the visits — but were said to be friends pretending to be working for the ex-PM’s defense team in order to be allowed to see him.

Olmert was one of eight former officials and businessmen convicted in March 2014 in the Holyland real estate corruption case, which officials have characterized as the largest in Israel’s history.

Olmert began serving his 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice in February.

According to Channel 10’s Shishi program, former justice minister Haim Ramon had renewed his law license in order to join Olmert’s defense team and obtain permission from the Prisons Service to visit him without limit.

Many of Olmert’s friends are attorneys. Olmert himself is a former practicing lawyer who once ran his own firm.

Following media reports about the visits, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered a change in visitation policy to ensure equality for all prisoners.

Under the new rules, prisoners are limited to three visits from law firms per week, with no more than one 45-minute visit by a single firm each day, though no limits were placed on the number of attorneys that can be present during a visit.

The reports of Olmert’s many visitors drew condemnation over the weekend, with claims that the influential former premier enjoyed benefits not available to other prisoners.

The Israel Bar Association criticized the new guidelines.

In a statement to Channel 10, Bar chairman Effi Naveh said Olmert’s “alleged abuse of attorneys’ visitation rights…does not grant the Prisons Service the right to harm all attorneys and prisoners. The decisive majority of prisoners does not enjoy a succession of visits from attorneys, and the new restrictions are overly severe and inappropriate.”

The Bar Association “does not intend to accept this situation, and will act accordingly,” he vowed.

On Thursday, the State Prosecutor’s Office said it was considering an indictment on charges of obstructing justice and tampering with a witness against the lawyer who defended Olmert.

Shula Zaken, Ehud Olmert's bureau chief, leaves her home in Jerusalem on March 27, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shula Zaken, Ehud Olmert’s ex-bureau chief, leaves her home in Jerusalem on March 27, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Navot Tel-Zur is suspected of attempting to torpedo a plea bargain between the prosecution and accomplice-turned-state’s witness Shula Zaken.

Zaken was Olmert’s assistant who assisted him in his illegal enterprises. Her testimony against him was instrumental in his conviction.

According to a statement by the Justice Ministry, Tel-Zur was recorded by Zaken as he offered her money and legal assistance in exchange for dropping a deal she had struck with the prosecution.

Later, he allegedly offered to double the initial amount of money to cancel the deal.

In a comment he gave Thursday to Channel 2 News, Tel-Zur insisted all his actions in the matter were legal.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert at the courtroom of the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem, February 2, 2016. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert at the courtroom of the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem, February 2, 2016. (Gili Yohanan/POOL)

“I’ve been an attorney for 30 years, and understand full well the boundary between what is allowed and what isn’t with regard to giving advice to clients,” Tel-Zur said.

“I disagree with the state’s position, by which I obstructed the course of justice, and many respected attorneys feel the same way. Shula Zaken came to me for advice and I advised her to the best of my understanding, according to all the details I had at the time.”

He claimed that “not only did I not try to dissuade Zaken from signing the plea deal or offer her anything for such a purpose, the opposite is the truth: I expressed my view that it was a reasonable deal for her, although it could be improved, in my opinion.”

The prosecution will decide on Tel-Zur’s case following a hearing.

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