Prosecution Asks to Present New Evidence Against Olmert

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Ehud Olmert, right, and Shula Zaken in court in September, before their break.Credit: Amit Shabi

In another potential blow to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the prosecution yesterday asked the Supreme Court for permission to present new evidence against him in the Holyland-related bribery cases in which he was convicted, and which he is appealing.

At issue is email correspondence between Olmert’s former long-time aide, Shula Zaken, and her lawyer, Ofer Bartal, from July 2012, on the evening after the state’s witness in that case, Shmuel Dechner, gave testimony. In those emails, Zaken confirms that Dechner had told her that Olmert had asked him to help his brother, Yossi, financially. Ehud Olmert was convicted of bribery for taking over half a million shekels ($131,200) for his brother, in return for facilitating rezoning and enhanced building rights for the developers of the Holyland housing project.

In his testimony, Dechner, who died in March 2013, said that after leaving the meeting at which Olmert had asked him to help his brother, he told Zaken about it. Asked by police about Dechner’s description of events, Zaken said, “it could be,” but later retracted that statement. Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen, who convicted Olmert, said that from analyzing Zaken’s testimony, “it could be” was equal to “yes.”

Emails just discovered

This email correspondence was discovered only two weeks ago by the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s office for economic and tax crimes, which has been handling the Holyland case, when it emerged that a disk with 3,000 of Zaken’s emails had been mistakenly given to Olmert’s defense attorneys.

A second piece of evidence – recordings in which Olmert is heard talking about 60,000 shekels that he got from Dechner through Zaken – will be submitted to the Supreme Court only if the justices decide to intervene in the factual findings that Rozen relied upon in his ruling. Olmert was convicted of accepting the 60,000 shekels that had ostensibly been passed to him by his associate, Uri Messer. Zaken had earlier told police and the court that she had taken 60,000 shekels that she got from Dechner and given it to Messer. After signing a plea bargain and turning state’s witness, she testified that she had given the money directly to Olmert, who even counted it himself.

Toward the end of the Holyland trial, the prosecution tried to interest Rozen in the recordings, which he eventually listened to. Nevertheless, he ruled Olmert had taken the money on the strength of what he had heard in court, saying that whether the money had gone directly to Olmert or to the secret fund that Messer was keeping for Olmert wasn’t relevant. “As to whether he [Olmert] knew or didn’t know, really now, I was already 100 percent certain, so now I could be 130 percent?”

Olmert atty.: Zaken got big bucks from businessmen

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem District Court yesterday, Olmert’s lawyer argued that Zaken had received hundreds of thousands of shekels from leading businessmen, as Zaken’s testimony in the reopened Talansky case against Olmert came to an end.
That case was adjourned until December 14, when Olmert is scheduled to testify.

Just before wrapping up his cross-examination of Zaken, the ex-premier’s lawyer, Eyal Rosovsky, noted that police had presented her with written evidence that she had received 404,520 shekels from businessman Alfred Akirov, as well as 148,000 shekels from Udi Angel’s Variety organization, and that she had confirmed those sums. Her associate, Uri Mantzur, had also given her hundreds of thousands of shekels to pay for her defense in the various corruption cases against Olmert, Rosovsky said.

“All told, during this period of the trials, you were in a very good situation, better than you’d ever been,” said Rosovsky.

Rosovsky also recalled Zaken’s testimony to police that she had decided to use some of the money Olmert had given her for her defense and spent it on personal needs instead. Zaken yesterday replied that some what she had told police was true, and some wasn’t.

“You’re saying that you gave testimony to police as a state’s witness that was only partially correct?” asked Rosovsky.

“That’s correct,” said Zaken.

This case centers on allegations that Olmert had received money from New York businessman Morris Talansky between 1997 and 2005 and not reported it properly. Zaken had refused to testify in her own defense at the first trial, in which Olmert was acquitted of corruption charges in 2012. However, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial after Zaken cut a plea bargain with the state and provided tapes of conversations she had with Olmert. She is currently serving an 11-month prison sentence.

Defense: Olmert gave money strictly out of concern

The defense is trying to prove that the former prime minister never asked Zaken not to testify against him, and that Olmert gave her money strictly out of concern for her personal wellbeing.

During the redirect examination, prosecutor Uri Korev noted that Rosovsky had refrained from asking Zaken about the content of the recordings that are the reason the Talansky case was reopened in the first place. “This case could be finished in 10 minutes, from the moment the diaries were submitted, let alone the recordings. They speak for themselves. I understand that that’s what the Supreme Court thought.”

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