Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert alleged that his former Defense Minister Ehud Barak took huge bribes on arms sales and hid the money in offshore accounts. Olmert was heard making the accusations in audio recordings revealed on Friday evening by Channel 10 News. Barak denies the accusations.
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The conversation – part of the tapes recorded by Olmert’s former aide Shula Zaken – took place on July 2011. Olmert and Zaken were talking about the Rishon Tours affair (in which Olmert was suspected of illegally double-billing charities for the same flights), at which point Olmert began to speak about Barak’s lavish lifestyle.
“But he’ll end up in jail,” Olmert says. “Remember what I’m telling you, Shula.
“He took bribes worth millions and tens of millions,” Olmert continued. “There is no weapons deal Israel does ... everyone is talking about it.”
Zaken then asked Olmert where the money is, to which he responded, “He hides it in Switzerland or in some law firm, he transfers it to a company where Barak’s name doesn’t appear.”
There is no evidence backing the claims made in the recording, and it should be noted that the relationship between Olmert and Barak has been notoriously poor.
Barak told Channel 10 in response that the claims were completely false and unfounded. “This is idiocy that does not deserve a response, and certainly not at this time,” he said, referring to Olmert’s ongoing legal troubles.
Olmert told Zaken how envious Barak was of Olmert’s Audi A8. “You know that Barak asked for the Audi A8 – you know why? ... Since I have an Audi, 12 cylinders, six liter [engine]. A five-ton car, tank. But listen, car, television inside, digital television from every direction. The car is bigger than a Mercedes ... He only wants it out of jealousy, only because of jealousy that I ride in an Audi A8, so this crazy [man] wanted [one],” Olmert told Zaken.
Olmert’s legal defense team said there is a court order banning the release of the tapes, and therefore they cannot discuss the matter. But Channel 10 News said this claim was incorrect and it was allowed to publish the content of the tapes.
Zaken, who served as Olmert’s right-hand woman and was convicted together with him in the Holyland affair earlier this year, testified against him last week as a state witness in the Talansky case – the so-called “cash-envelopes” affair in which Olmert allegedly accepted illicit funds from New York businessman Morris Talansky. The case was reopened in light of Zaken’s agreement to testify against Olmert. Zaken is currently serving an 11-month prison sentence for her part in the Holyland affair, while Olmert and others are still free pending appeals of their convictions.
Olmert has been accused of receiving donations from Talansky between 1997 and 2005, and not reporting them properly. He was initially acquitted on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and concealing fraudulent earnings in 2012. But in 2013 the Supreme Court ordered a retrial after Zaken handed over secret recordings and promised to testify about journal entries on money transfers between Olmert and an associate of his, under a plea bargain she made with the State Prosecutor’s Office.
In order to be acquitted a second time, Olmert will have to convince the judges that the contradictions between what he was recorded as telling Zaken and his testimony in court and to the police have a good explanation.
Zaken said in her testimony last week that Olmert had appointed a lawyer for her, “so I would be able to protect him.” She said Olmert had given her money via his driver so she would not testify in the Talansky and Rishon Tours cases. Olmert was also acquitted in the Rishon Tours case two years ago, after the court ruled that there was no conclusive evidence he was aware of the crimes that benefited him with extra funding from the state and public organizations for his trips abroad.
“The money was for protection, so that I would do what he wanted, so that I wouldn’t take the witness stand against him. Because without my testimony, you wouldn’t have the diaries,” she said, referring to her personal notes, which she used to document meetings and money transfers related to Olmert. These were previously ruled inadmissible because of her refusal to testify.