Police Recommend New Charges Against Olmert

Former prime minister and his attorney allegedly tried to influence state witness Shula Zaken not to testify against him.

Amit Shabi

The police announced Thursday that it has collected sufficient evidence to pursue charges of obstructing justice and trying to influence a witness against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his attorney Navot Tel Zur.

The case is now in the hands of the central district branch of the State Prosecutor’s office. Its lead attorney, Ronit Amiel, will have to decide whether to take the case to court.

A two-month-old investigation by Israel Police’s elite Lahav 433 squad turned up evidence that Olmert had tried to get Shula Zaken, his former aide who turned state’s witness, not to deliver incriminating evidence against him while several corruption cases were pending. The head of the police’s investigation and intelligence department, Maj. Gen. Manny Itzhaki, accepted the recommendations by Brig. Gen. Efraim Bracha, the chief of Lahav 433, to prosecute Olmert and Tel Zur.

The investigation also showed that Olmert and Tel Zur pressured Zaken to try and prevent her from signing a plea deal in the Holyland corruption case, with Olmert later also trying to influence her testimony. Meanwhile, Zaken was receiving money and gifts from different people at the behest of Olmert.

The investigation started with the initial attempts at reaching a deal with Zaken in February. With new evidence provided by Zaken, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan ordered a new criminal investigation. Zaken and her family members gave testimony, and Olmert and Tel Zur were questioned under warning.

This week, Nitzan officially asked the Supreme Court to re-open the Talansky case, in which Olmert is suspected of received as bribes tens of thousands of dollars in cash-filled envelopes. Olmert was acquitted in that case but the state appealed. Judgement on this appeal is now pending. The State Prosecution is not requesting the re-opening of the Rishon Tours corruption case, which also ended in an acquittal.

The new request includes some details of recordings made by Zaken, which led to the new investigation. According to the official request, one such recording documents a conversation between Zaken and Olmert, held in May 2011, just before Olmert’s testimony at the District Court in Jerusalem. Another recording is from October 2012, three months after the verdict was handed down. “As evident in these recordings and in others obtained by the prosecution from Zaken in recent months, Olmert used unacceptable methods to persuade Zaken not to testify in the two cases in front of us,” wrote Nitzan. “It appears that the respondent used two methods — paying Zaken substantial amounts of money, mainly to cover her legal expenses, while also trying to convince her not to testify, since this would be to his detriment.” Zaken, in the debate over her plea bargain, told Justice Rozen that Olmert told her that if she testifies “maybe Uri Korev (the prosecutor in the Rishon Tours and Talansky cases) would kill her.”

According to Nitzan, the recordings show that the money Olmert received from Talansky was used for personal, not political purposes. The judges in the Jerusalem district Court who acquitted Olmert had said that there was some possibility that all the money held by Olmert’s accomplice attorney Uri Messer was used for political purposes. Nitzan said that the recording can now rule out this possibility.

Tel Zur, a senior partner in the law offices of Ram Kaspi, is representing Olmert in the Talansky case. In the Holyland trial, Tel Zur represented Danny Dankner. In response to the accusations, Tel Zur “vehemently rejected any suspicions cast on his behavior by the police”, saying that he “is sure the issue will be thoroughly investigated by the state prosecutor, and that the evidence will show that Tel Zur did not breach any law and that he acted in good faith in helping Shula Zaken, behaving professionally, in a human and comradely manner. One should wait patiently for the prosecutor’s decision.”

Olmert’s defense team also responded to the new developments, stating that attempts to further harm former Prime Minister Olmert should cease.