The Judge’s Masterstroke in Playing Olmert’s Bureau Chief

David Rozen pulled the story out of Shula Zaken one bit at a time until he exposed Olmert’s presence in all the various corruption affairs.

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Judge David Rozen presides over the Holyland trial sentencing. May 13, 2014.
Judge David Rozen. Don't mess with him.
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

On Thursday morning, Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen masterminded an event that was amazing and unusual, even “historic,” according to a legal expert in the Holyland corruption case. Rozen took advantage of the final words of a convicted felon before being sentenced to outflank the Ehud Olmert camp and land a crushing blow.

In Courtroom 606, Rozen taught a lesson to those who couldn’t wait until the trial’s conclusion. In the end, Rozen allowed former Olmert bureau chief Shula Zaken — actually, he encouraged her — to make serious accusations against Olmert, to the point of reducing to almost nil his chances of winning an appeal at the Supreme Court.

The biting criticism of Rozen by Olmert’s spokespeople regarding aspects of the conviction, the punishment and the reasoning could have waited for two days until the end of Rozen’s part in the procedure. Those were two days of premature tongue-lashing.

Rozen still had tools, and he used them without limits, perhaps without precedent, to mention Olmert’s involvement in other cases and to pad Zaken’s testimony regarding Olmert’s ties with the state’s witness, Shmuel Dechner. After her comments Thursday about helping coordinate Dechner’s bribery meeting with Yossi Olmert, at the express request of brother Ehud, only a fool would claim that the evidence of contacts between Dechner and Yossi was only circumstantial.

Rozen didn’t fold after the condemnations of his style. He repeated all the defiant words – betrayal, excrement, filth, swinishness. He also made headlines anticipating the contribution of Zaken’s evidence in order to reopen the Jerusalem trial that ended in a (partial) acquittal of Olmert. He also foreshadowed an indictment against Olmert “and others” for obstruction and incitement. Although everything is ostensible and conditional, the impression has been made.

A covetous, exploitative, domineering person – angry every time his secretary went to the beauty parlor or “a disgusting Indian restaurant” during work – Olmert is portrayed by the employee who was closest to him negatively, and not only in a criminal sense. Rozen’s questions pulled the story out of Zaken one bit at a time, until he exposed Olmert’s presence in all the stables Rozen wanted cleaned out – the Holyland affair, the Talansky cash-envelopes affair and the Rishon Tours double-billing affair, not to mention all the instances of obstruction, incitement and harassment.

Rozen, sometimes with a smile and sometimes with a serious expression, gleaned harsh statements from Zaken on Olmert’s personal behavior and financial and political conduct. He revealed the tip of the investigation, which relies on recordings of conversations between Olmert and Zaken over the past three years.

As the price of Zaken’s lethal cooperation with the legal authorities, prosecutor Jonathan Tadmor formed an alliance with defense attorneys Ofer Bartal and Dov Gilad Cohen. Rozen was in effect offered the role of prosecutor, and the role of Rozen, in rejecting the appeal, will be reserved for the Supreme Court.

All this would have been the case even if Olmert’s associates had remained silent, but because they didn’t have the sense to restrain themselves, Rozen taught them a lesson. With his confidence in the conviction he had handed down, he also wanted, and received, a little help from Olmert’s former friend.

The public won’t forgive Olmert for using the mysterious money to buy cigars and other luxuries. He won’t be able to hide his expensive suits – for which he’ll have little use in the years following his appeal to the Supreme Court.

Zaken’s emotional but polished appearance wouldn’t have shamed experienced lawyers, perhaps a result of her tribulations in three trials in seven years. But Zaken wasn’t really convincing when it came to expressing regret for her sins. Even her tagline “I only want my life back” wasn’t fitting in a country where so many young people will never get back the life they lost in the service of the government.

But the message came across: The spell is broken, she’s no longer afraid of Olmert. Let’s see him manage now with Zaken not on his side but against him, with recordings yet.

Rozen, in his brilliant maneuver Thursday, added to his achievements in conducting the Holyland case. He hasn’t reached the finish line – resuming procedures in the other cases – without impressive partners like the head of the Police Investigations Unit, Yoav Segalovich. Without him, the deal with Dechner would never have been signed.

There was also Tadmor and many more: the Tel Aviv District prosecutor for economic and tax crimes, Liat Ben Ari; former State Prosecutor Moshe Lador; former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz; and the public defender, who had the wisdom to rescue Zaken from the claws of legal advisers who had been bought by Olmert and hired attorneys not for sale – Bartal and Cohen.

If Olmert thought in the past two days that his attack on Rozen would achieve a victory, a tie or at least a respectable defeat, he was mistaken, as he was throughout all the scandals. On Thursday, even though he wasn’t there in the courtroom, he was defeated unconditionally.

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