Businessman Accused by Zaken in Olmert Trial Found Dead in Apparent Suicide

Benny Tavin, found shot to death in his car in Tel Aviv, offered Olmert's aide Shula Zaken a bribe on Olmert's behalf in return for her silence, Zaken had told police.

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Benny Tavin
Benny TavinCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

Businessman Benny Tavin, a long-time aide to Shula Zaken and close associate of Ehud Olmert and other Likud figures, was found shot to death in his car in north Tel Aviv Thursday morning. Police said his death appeared to be a suicide.

Zaken, a state's witness against former Prime Minister Olmert, had told police that Tavin, acting on Olmert's behalf, had offered her a bribe in return for her silence in Olmert's corruption trial.

A police cruiser discovered Tavin's body in his car, which was parked in an open field near the Kiryat Shaul cemetery in north Tel Aviv. A gun was recovered in the vehicle.

Upon the news of Tavin's death, drama ensued in the Jerusalem District Court where the Olmert trial was in session. Zaken, who was being cross examined by Olmert's defense attorneys, began charging that Olmert was responsible for Tavin's suicide. Olmert responded by shouting out at Zaken that she was to blame for his death.

Following the heated rhetoric, the presiding judge instructed Zaken to leave the courtroom and adjourned the proceedings.

Despite the police's assumption that Tavin committed suicide, his aassociates expressed great surprise over his death and said they do not believe he killed himself.

Tavin spent the weekend at a bed and breakfast in northern Israel, they noted, and those who had spoken to him before the shooting said there were no indications that anything was wrong. He had not spoken of being depressed or of any threats made against him.

Tavin was a close associate of Olmert's and was Zaken's right-hand man for decades. He was imprisoned in the 1980s for his part in Olmert's "fictitious accounts" affair, in which Olmert, then a Knesset member, was acquitted. Four years ago, Tavin was imprisoned again in a bribery case involving Likud-linked businessman David Appel.  .

Zaken, Olmert's former bureau chief, is currently serving a prison sentence in connection with dealings she had while working for Olmert. The former prime minister has been facing a number of criminal charges for corruption.

In response to Tavin's death, Olmert's attorneys issued the response: "In February of this year, Shula Zaken tried to extort the sum of a half-million dollars from Mr. Olmert, promising that if the sum were paid to her, she would not turn state's witness. Mr. Olmert heard about this from Mr. Benny Tavin, z"l, and informed the Israel Police of it at his own initiative, during interrogation, so that police would investigate. In recent months and weeks, Benny Tavin, z"l, expressed again and again his consent to testify as to this matter at any and every judicial level, and was even in touch with this defense team. To our regret, he decided today to end his life. We offer our condolences to his family in their grief."