Benny Tavin, a former aide to Shula Zaken and long-time business associate of disgraced ex-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, was found dead Thursday in what appears to be a suicide.
Police discovered Tavin with a gunshot wound to the head in his car outside a north Tel Aviv cemetery Thursday morning with the gun at his side, and are treating his death as a suicide.
Zaken, who turned state’s witness against her former boss Olmert, recently told police that Tavin offered her a bribe in exchange for her silence in the former prime minister’s ongoing corruption trials.
The news of Tavin’s death interrupted proceedings of the Olmert trial that was in session on Thursday in the Jerusalem District Court, when an argument broke out between Olmert and Zaken, each blaming the other for Tavin’s death.
Following the altercation, the judge halted the proceedings and ordered Zaken to leave the courtroom temporarily.
Zaken is currently serving an 11-month prison sentence as part of a plea bargain she made in exchange for testifying against Olmert, who is facing numerous criminal charges for corruption and has been convicted of graft in the Holyland real estate scandal.
Tavin was a close associate of both for over two decades. In the 1980s he was indicted for his involvement in the “fictitious invoices” scandal that rocked the Likud party and almost cost Olmert his political career. Olmert, who was the Likud party treasurer at the time, was eventually acquitted while Tavin was convicted of providing phony invoices to Likud party donors, and was sentenced to eight months in prison.
Tavin was imprisoned again in 2010 on additional bribery charges that involved Likud party businessman David Appel.
Olmert was acquitted in two major corruption cases in 2012, but later found guilty of other unrelated graft charges for which he has been sentenced to jail.
Olmert resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police investigators recommended that he be indicted.
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 a separate graft case, the “Holyland affair,” revolving around a large Jerusalem residential development. He was ordered to report to prison on September 1, but the prison date was suspended pending his appeal.
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.