“Ehud Olmert new every little detail about the trips,” says Shula Zaken, who worked with the former prime minister for nearly 40 years as his bureau chief, and ultimately testified against him as part of a plea bargain, in her first public comments on the Rishon Tours affair.
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In that case, Olmert was acquitted on charges of using double funding for his trips abroad on behalf of various organizations, for his personal needs. Zaken, who was convicted on counts of fraud in the case, says in an exclusive interview with Ilana Dayan broadcast Thursday night on the Uvda program on Channel Two: “There was a method. We planned the trips so they would work out this way. We took the organizations and put them together so there would be a surplus. We wanted the surplus. We matched up different organizations in order to create a surplus No trip ever happened without his prior review.”
And you’re sitting with him in the room?
“Yes, and I ask him, I tell him – they want you here, and they want you here. Then he would say to me: ‘Okay, ask for this much from that one, and this much from the other one.’ He would do the calculations because he was a whiz at that. Then he would say – now you can upgrade me to First Class because these organizations have never paid for First Class. Only Business Class at most.’”
And no warning bells went off in your head?
You didn’t say to yourself, wait a minute, we’re robbing these people. It’s their money.
“Yes, you’re right. There was one time when one organization said: ‘I know that you’re [billing] the other organization, so why do I need to pay this whole sum?’ I went to Olmert and I said to him, ‘Listen, they’re complaining, because this really isn’t right if we’re doing it on the same ticket.’ I remember that he told me, ‘So if they don’t want to, forget it.’”
During her interrogation and during the trial in the Rishon Tours case, Zaken chose to maintain her right to remain silent and not to testify. In the interview on Uvda, she reveals what went on behind the scenes of this dramatic decision, which analysts called “legal suicide,” and the prohibited conversations between her and suspect number one in the case – Olmert. At the end of the trial, she was convicted of having fraudulently obtained benefits, for having collected double payments from the organizations that invited Olmert abroad, with the extra funds then going to pay for his private trips. Olmert was acquitted since it was not sufficiently proven that he knew anything about it. The state prosecutor did not appeal the verdict.
This is what Zaken tells interviewer Ilana Dayan about the dramatic moment when she realized in court that he was being acquitted and she was being convicted: “He’s sitting next to me and holding my hand. I’m thinking that if I were to roll up my sleeve at that moment, my arm would look blue. He’s clutching my hand tight and not letting go. I’m looking at him, and he’s not looking at me. He’s only looking at the judge, and then she starts to read out the verdict. She gets to the lines saying that he is acquitted, and after his acquittal was read out there was a lot of hubbub in the courtroom. No one cared at that point what would happen to me. And I’m listening and I’m saying, ‘hush,’ because I want to hear. And it doesn’t seem to interest anyone very much, because I can see he’s already texting, and lawyers are already talking to each other, and I’m looking at them like, ‘Hey guys, maybe you forgot, but I’m the one who sat here for years, day in and day out.’
“And then the [court] president says she is acquitting me in the Talansky case, and on the second indictment in the Rishon Tours case she is convicting me and sentencing me to probation plus a NIS 40,000 fine. And there’s no reaction, nothing. No one cares. And I remain seated, and she finishes reading, and the three judges stand up to leave. The whole courtroom stands up in their honor and everyone disappears. One sentence [Olmert said] keeps ringing in my mind – ‘No way that I’ll be acquitted and you’ll be convicted.’”
But Olmert must have said something to you after he heard that you were convicted.
Not a word?
A spokesperson for former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s defense team says: “Shula Zaken, whom the courts determined is not a credible person, now makes a living from marketing false calumnies about Mr. Ehud Olmert. The timing that Ms. Zaken is choosing to continue publicizing her bald-faced lies is not coincidental, as the Supreme Court is currently hearing the state’s appeals and Mr. Olmert’s appeals, and we are awaiting its verdict.”