‘Zaken routinely ordered us to eavesdrop on Olmert’s calls'

Ex-secretary at Industry Ministry tells court of "prearranged signals" for listening in on conversations.

March 23, 2010 06:24
2 minute read.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert talks to the pre

olmert at court 311 AJ. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

A secretary who worked in Ehud Olmert’s office when he served as Minister of Industry, Commerce and Employment testified on Tuesday that Shula Zaken, Olmert’s close aide, ordered her and other secretaries to eavesdrop on Olmert’s conversations, write down the contents and give them to Zaken.

Olmert and Zaken are on trial in Jerusalem District Court on a number of charges. One of them, aimed at Zaken, is that she listened in on Olmert’s conversations, without his knowledge, for three years.

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“The defendant always ‘went over’ the list of conversations that [Olmert] was expecting and ticked off those she wanted the secretaries to listen to,” the indictment states. “Furthermore, sometimes, when [Olmert] received a phone call which the defendant was interested in, she would signal to the secretaries, using a prearranged and fixed signal, to listen in on the conversation.”

Vered Ovadia, the first of Olmert’s secretaries to testify at Tuesday’s hearing, told the court, “Shula would make a signal with her ear or by pointing to her notebook and then we would listen to the minister’s phone calls.”

She was replying to a question by Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel, the chief prosecutor in the trial.

“We only listened in when Shula told us to,” she continued. “Every time there was a phone call, we would ask Shula whether we should transfer it. I listened in because she asked me to. I know Pazit [another secretary] did too.”

Ovadia said she listened in on two or three of Olmert’s conversations a day.

Asked which conversations she listened to, Ovadia said she did not know. “I wrote everything down like a parrot and handed it over to Zaken,” she said.

Ovadia added that she did not tell anyone about the practice because she was afraid she would lose her job.

“I felt a little bad,” she told the court. “I’m not the eavesdropping type. But I said to myself that if I don’t do what they ask, I’ll lose my job because I am not a regular civil servant but serve at Olmert’s personal request. I understood that the minister brings his own people and if he doesn’t like something they do, he can fire them.”

Ovadia added that she did not believe Olmert knew his conversations were being recorded and that had he known he would have fired her. On the other hand, had she not done what she was ordered to do, Zaken would have had her fired also.

Zaken’s lawyer, Micha Fetman, said that it was part of the standard work routine for the secretaries to listen in to Olmert’s phone calls and that it was common practice to do so in many ministries.

“There is no question of illegal eavesdropping here,” he said.

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