Supreme Court to Hear Zaken-Olmert Tapes Before Revisiting Talansky Affair

The two recordings, from May 2011 and October 2012, include conversations between the former prime minister and his bureau chief who served him for decades.

Olivier Fitoussi

The Supreme Court decided Sunday it would hear two recordings provided by Shula Zaken before deciding on the appeal of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s acquittal in the Talansky affair. Four justices were in favor of listening to the recordings, which Zaken, Olmert’s former assistant, supplied as part of her plea bargain. Supreme Court President Asher Grunis said the current decision was no indication of how the court would rule on whether a lower court should reopen the case.

Grunis, along with justices Uzi Vogelman, Salim Joubran and Neil Handel, favored hearing the recordings. Justice Yoram Danziger was opposed, hinting at a serious dispute between the justices in the case, and saying that acceptance of the recordings as evidence would “contaminate the criminal procedure.”

Olmert’s attorneys objected to the request to hearing the recordings.

The two recordings, from May 2011 and October 2012 — a month after the verdicts were given in the case — include conversations between Olmert and Zaken, who was Olmert’s bureau chief and served him for decades when he was mayor, a minister and later prime minister.

The prosecution claims the recordings strengthen the case against Olmert in the Talansky affair. In the case, Olmert was accused of allegedly receiving illicit funds from U.S. businessman and fundraiser Morris Talansky while serving in various public positions. The accusations predated his election as prime minister. As mayor of Jerusalem (1993-2003) and as minister of industry and trade (2003-2006), Olmert allegedly accepted significant sums of money, both directly and indirectly, from at least one third party. Olmert allegedly took hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the suspicions. Olmert was acquitted in that case.

The prosecution had already appealed Olmert’s 2012 acquittal on charges of receiving large cash bribes from Talansky, but it asked a panel of five Supreme Court justices last month to send the case back to the Jerusalem District Court and allow prosecutors to submit new evidence: diaries and two recordings provided by Zaken under the state’s witness agreement she signed in March.

Prosecutors want to reopen the case based on the tapes, on the grounds that they strengthen the case against Olmert and explain why Zaken refused to testify in the original Talansky trial — to protect Olmert. Because she refused to testify at the time, the diaries, which document the alleged payments Talansky made to Olmert, were not admissible as evidence.

Talansky told a court last year that he gave Olmert’s brother Yossi $30,000 to help him out of financial difficulties at Olmert’s request. In July 2013, a year after Olmert was acquitted in the Talansky case, the Supreme Court held two days of hearings on the prosecution’s appeal. It has yet to rule.

As to Danziger’s opinion that the court should not be exposed to evidence that could be found inadmissible, and that this could influence the court, Grunis wrote that Danziger’s opinion is the opposite of the established practice, and that every day judges are exposed to inadmissible evidence. It is necessary to have faith in the justices’ judgment, and exposure to such evidence does not disqualify a judge from deciding a case, Grunis opined.