Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's bureau chief Shula Zaken won her bid Thursday for a plea bargain over her role in the Holyland corruption affair. Under the plea bargain Zaken will serve 11 months in prison, instead of the many years she would have otherwise been sentenced to.
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Judge David Rozen had voiced reticence about accepting the deal, but seemed to change his opibnion after Zaken unveiled a dramatic testimony revealing new details about the transfer of funds in the Holyland bribery case.
Zaken’s attorneys and the state prosecution spent the morning trying to convince Rozen to accept the plea bargain they agreed on after the convictions were declared, following the resounding sentences handed down in the trial on Tuesday, including a six-year-jail sentence for Olmert.
Zaken revealed during her testimony that she had transferred funds in cash from state witness Shmuel Dechner to Olmert, who counted the money in her presence. She also said that she had mediated between Olmert's brother Yossi and Dechner. "Ehud said there was no choice, we have to help."
Zaken began unraveling this testimony after Rozen voiced criticism of the plea bargain. After her testimony and before the recess, Rozen said "there will be no surprises," and hinted that the plea bargain would in fact be accepted when the session resumed.
Rozen commented previously that he was in no hurry to embrace the deal, unless he is convinced that Zaken brings about a “sweeping out of the stables.”
Prior to her testimony on Thursday, Rozen termed Zaken a "serious criminal," telling the prosecution he needed no convincing of this fact. "As far as I'm concerned, the evidence you have presented is iron-clad. [Zaken] has fortified the evidence and is giving you a new case, of obstruction [of legal proceedings], and the bottom line won’t change anything."
"The prime minister was convicted of bribery, what else can you expect?" Rozen added.
Rozen was quick to note after handing down his verdict in March that “this is not some junior functionary or someone who was led into temptation, but rather a key figure who pocketed hundreds of thousands of shekels, possibly not always with the knowledge of Ehud Olmert. She took money for herself, and I’ll want to know why you are requesting what you are asking for. If this is a case of ‘cleaning the stables’ I’ll be open to hearing it. If this is about obstruction of justice, then it’s not a big turnaround.
"I imagine you knew that [Zaken's] previous silence did not stem from concern over persecution of a prime minister, and that you didn’t fall off your chairs when she came forth and told you why she had maintained her silence, or when she testified as she did during the trial,” he told her attorneys and the prosecution.
Nevertheless, courts usually accept plea bargains. Rejecting one is unusual. In order to convince Rozen, prosecuting attorney Yonatan Tadmor stated that the intention is to present the judge with some of the evidence Zaken provided, backed by recordings that are now being investigated.
The prosecution requested that the hearings be held in camera. Rozen denied the request, saying he doesn’t believe that the prosecution will provide investigative evidence, and that anyway “everything has been published in the media.”
Rozen added that, if necessary, some material currently under a publication ban could be presented for his eyes only. In any case, the public will find out more today about how much Zaken contributed to uprooting corruption, and what is in those recordings.
Rozen previously refused to see the prosecution’s new evidence. He determined that he doesn’t need Zaken’s testimony since she is not telling the whole truth. He connected the facts that Olmert stated he had helped pay for her defense with her maintaining silence and protecting him during the trial.
The recordings substantiate the charges against Olmert in the Holyland case, and also in the so-called Talansky and Rishon Tours cases.