Shula Zaken, the ex-bureau chief of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said in court yesterday that she began recording their conversations when she felt “he was throwing me to the dogs.”
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In the third day of her cross-examination in the Jerusalem District Court, Zaken — who turned state witness against Olmert — was questioned at length about her motives for recording their conversations, which contain incriminating evidence against him. Olmert’s defense team asked why she did not recall that her sons were recording Olmert until such a late stage, and whether she remembered only after her request to turn state’s witness was initially rejected.
“You thought he was God, but you secretly taped him, thinking he was disloyal. Two months later you couldn’t remember this when questioned by the police?” asked Olmert’s attorney Eyal Rozovsky.
He asked her repeatedly about her motives and her skills in using the recording devices. “Was Olmert the first recording you made on your iPhone?” he asked. “Maybe not” she replied. “I only started recording him during the Holyland affair, when I felt that he was throwing me to the dogs. I don’t run a recording business.”
Olmert’s lawyer accused her of lying about not remembering the recordings and of erasing some parts before going to the police. Zaken took notes during her testimony, which Rozovsky asked for. In them she noted that Olmert taught her how to gamble. He accused her of seeking headlines and wishing to hurt Olmert. Zaken replied that she only sought to protect her reputation. “I don’t have PR people, and it hurt me when he told the police that I gamble, which I then read in the papers... I took notes so I’d remember. I’m reviled because of the recordings, but I also want to talk to the media.”
In his cross-examination Rozovsky didn’t relate to Zaken’s notes about cash given to Olmert by New York businessman Morris Talansky, or to recordings in which Olmert admits to giving her money from a secret safe held by Olmert’s friend and attorney Uri Messer.
The prosecution contends this is proof that Olmert made private use of the money. He was initially acquitted in the Talansky affair for lack of evidence and is being retried in the wake of evidence provided by Zaken after she turned state witness against him.
Olmert’s lawyers claim that the funds went for political purposes since Zaken was Olmert’s political aide, raising money for him. “I thought he was God and did everything for him,” she said.
Her initial decision not to testify was another point of contention. The defense argues that this was her decision, but she retorted that she behaved as requested by Olmert, who told her that she couldn’t handle a courtroom examination. Rozovsky asked her why she should be believed after lying for so many years and Zaken replied that telling the truth was easier and than continuing to lie.
Talansky affair retrial
Zaken is testifying in the retrial of the so-called Talansky affair, regarding allegations that Olmert received cash from the American businessman.
Zaken had refused to testify in her own defense at the first trial, in which Olmert was acquited of corruption charges in 2012. However, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial after Zaken, who is serving a six-year sentence, cut a plea bargain with the state and provided tapes of conversations she had with Olmert. The defense is trying to prove the former prime minister never asked Zaken not to testify against him, and that Olmert gave her money strictly out of concern for her personal wellbeing.
On Tuesday, the judge began hearing testimony without the presence of Olmert, who arrived late. Asked if she had told Olmert about the money her associate, Uri Mantzur, had given her to pass on to her lawyer, Micha Fettman, Zaken said she had told no one because she was the sole breadwinner in her home and needed to live. “How am I supposed to give food to my children,” she said.
Olmert wasn’t Zaken’s only target for revenge. “Roni Bar-On called me a liar on television,” she said, referring to the former attorney general who had to step down in 1997 amid allegations that there were corrupt reasons behind his appointment. “May I remind him that asked me in the Bar-On-Hebron scandal that payment has to be made for his appointment to Ehud Olmert.”
Zaken denied that she acted on her own but noted he had not asked her directly to keep quiet. “You really think he needed to say, ‘I’ll give you money and you keep quiet?’” she said. “He was prime minister. That’s the style of a prime minister?” Later, Zaken added, “Ehud Olmert bought my silence, period.”