In a dramatic turn in the criminal trial of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Jerusalem District Court, his former secretary and close associate for many years, Shula Zaken, announced that following consultations with her lawyer, she would not take the witness stand.
Olmert is charged with double-billing nonprofit organizations for the same overseas flights and using the surplus to fund personal vacations, receiving cash-filled envelopes from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky and improperly interfering in decisions at the Industry Ministry's Investment Center.
Because Zaken herself has been charged in connection with the three matters herself, she has the right not to testify.
The refusal, however, involves risks should the prosecution produce evidence against her, as her silence could be construed as an admission and strengthen the case against her and her former boss.
Although Olmert expressed surprise at the new development in the case, others close to him called the decision on Zaken's part on whether or not to testify a personal choice. After the court session yesterday, Zaken attributed her decision to a lack of confidence in the proper intentions of the police and the prosecution in the case. Referring to Olmert, Zaken said: "They marked a target, and he's in court."
"As is known, I have cooperated in all of the questioning that I viewed as legitimate and that dealt with matters pertaining to me," she said, adding: "But where I saw there was an attempt to depose a sitting prime minister [Olmert], I kept quiet. I refused to be a tool of the investigators."
She also expressed optimism that, based on the evidence, she and Olmert would be acquitted by the court. Zaken is implicated in all three of the cases in which Olmert himself is charged. She is also accused of eavesdropping on behalf of the former prime minister, and other than the eavesdropping allegation, she invoked her right to remain silent when questioned by investigators. Yesterday, she explained her decision as being motivated by a desire not to lend a hand to efforts to target Olmert.
In a related development, Olmert will be allowed to use a 12-year-old legal opinion by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman as evidence. Neeman, who was a lawyer in private practice when the document, a letter, was written, asserted in his opinion that political contributions received between election campaigns do not have to be reported to the authorities. Olmert's lawyers claim the opinion also has implications with regard to later sums received from Talansky. Omri Sharon, the son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, alerted the defense team to the existence of the letter.
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