Zaken Contradicts Olmert in Dramatic Testimony: He Knew About Everything

Former prime minister's ex-office bureau chief testifies against her old boss.

Gil Yohanan

Shula Zaken, the ex-bureau chief of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, testified at the Jerusalem District Court for the first time on Monday morning in the Talansky "cash envelopes" case, which has been reopened.

Zaken, who served as Olmert’s right-hand woman and was convicted together with him in the Holyland affair, testified against him for the first time on Monday as a state witness.

Gil Yohanan

Olmert has been accused of receiving donations from New York businessman Morris Talansky between 1997 and 2005 and not reporting on them properly. He was acquitted of charges of fraud, breach of trust and concealing fraudulent earnings in 2012. But in 2013 the Supreme Court ordered a retrial after Zaken handed over secret recordings and promised to testify about journal entries on money transfers between Olmert and an associate of his, under a plea bargain she made with the State Prosecutor’s Office.

Early in her hearing on Monday morning, Zaken explained that she had decided to record her conversations with Olmert so as to later play them to her family members, "so they would see we [Zaken and Olmert] had acted together." But later, she said, the circumstances changed. "In the end I recorded them because I didn’t believe him and my family didn’t believe it,” she said.

“At a certain point, it was because of the changes in the stories and I was confused already. I wanted to record them so I would know exactly what he was asking me to do,” she added.

Zaken said in her testimony that Olmert had appointed a lawyer for her “so that I would be able to protect him.” She said Olmert had given her money via his driver so she would not testify in the Talansky and Rishon Tours cases.

Olmert was also acquitted in the so-called Rishon Tours case after the court ruled two years ago that there was no conclusive evidence that he was aware of the crimes that benefited him with extra funding by the state and by public organizations for his trips abroad.

“The money was for protection, so that I would do what he wanted, so that I wouldn’t take the witness stand against him. Because without my testimony, you wouldn’t have the diaries,” she said, referring to her personal notes, which she used to document meetings and money transfers related to Olmert, but were previously ruled inadmissible because of her refusal to testify.

On the reason Olmert gave her money, Zaken added: “It was because he wanted to calm me down. I was silent during the investigations.” The recordings, which the Supreme Court allowed to be presented as new evidence in the case, were played during the hearing, and they were cleared for publication together with Zaken’s testimony.

Zaken also spoke about the testimony she gave in the Holyland case, in which Olmert was convicted of accepting bribes. “I didn’t cooperate with the investigation in cases that had nothing to do with me,” she said. When Judge Jacob Zaban asked Zaken what this had to do with Talansky, she said, “I was supposed to testify, so he [Olmert] told me how I had fallen [as in the Holyland affair].”

In a recording from May 2011, Zaken tells Olmert that it is hard for her to lie. She said that when Olmert told her “It’s not easy for me” during that same conversation, he meant that it was hard for him to pay his lawyers $3 million and her lawyers, too. She noted, however, that she did not know who had given him the money.

In her testimony, she mentioned the notes in her journal, where she wrote down the amounts of money she had received from Olmert's friend and former associate Uri Messer, and what she had passed on to him. Messer held hundreds of thousands of dollars in a hidden safe in his office for Olmert. “To threaten and intimidate me, he [Olmert] asks whether I told anyone about it. He knows he gave it to me,” Zaken said, adding that he made her feel like a criminal.

Gil Yohanan

She added that the money kept in the safe was not intended for political purposes, as Olmert previously claimed in the trial. “That fund was a personal, secret fund for his personal needs and those of his family.”

As previously mentioned, Olmert was acquitted in the Talansky affair because the judges ruled that there was reasonable doubt that the money from Messer and Talansky had been used for Olmert’s political needs rather than his personal ones.

In her testimony, Zaken admitted that she lied. “I lied, so you convicted me. He was the one who asked me to pass the money to Messer from Talansky." Referring to the Rishon Tours case, she said: "He asked me so that he would be able to steal the surplus for his trips.”

“There’s a limit to the idea that ‘he didn’t know,’" she added. "A person can get away with saying that once, when it comes to fake invoices. He knew it all. There’s not a thing he didn’t see, that he didn’t know.” 

The case continues.