The Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday pushed off deciding whether former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s verdict will go forward Monday morning, until the Monday hearing itself.
If the verdict is delayed, it would give the state time to allow Olmert’s former aide, Shula Zaken, to present new evidence to the courts – in which she allegedly shows that Olmert had tampered with a witness and obstructed justice.
In addition, it would allow the state to give police time to question Olmert again, put Zaken back on the stand, and potentially put Olmert back on the stand to respond.
At precisely 3:59 p.m. on Sunday, one minute before the court deadline, Olmert’s legal team chastised the state for cutting a deal with Zaken to testify against him.
Olmert said the state is being hypocritical criticizing defendants for using the press, but then doing “the unthinkable” to crucify him in the press, leading up to the verdict.
Olmert’s legal team said that the state could not with a straight face cut the deal and ask for a delay, when only days before it and the High Court of Justice had rejected the deal specifically because it was too close to the verdict date.
Furthermore, they said that all of the new allegations belong in a new investigation against him, as even the state admitted that the allegations were new obstruction charges – unrelated to the time period and facts of the Holyland case.
Olmert’s team said he is ready to be questioned in a new investigation, in which all regular procedures are followed, including a preliminary hearing with the state, but that delaying the Holyland verdict would be a travesty of justice.
Regardless of what happens with Olmert and Zaken, the verdicts for the other 14 defendants, including former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner, are still expected to go forward – though theoretically even those could be delayed.
The deal with Zaken involves her agreeing to serve 11 months in jail and paying a fine of NIS 100,000. In return the state is to drop its appeal to the Supreme Court against her acquittals on major charges – she was convicted on two minor counts – in the Jerusalem corruption trial.
Though the state originally rejected Zaken’s new evidence as insufficient, at the start of last week Zaken produced a series of cassette tapes that the state said provide a “serious suspicion” of obstruction of justice and witness tampering against Olmert.
In the Holyland trial, Olmert and the other defendants are accused of “smoothing over” various legal and zoning obstacles for the Holyland real estate project in southern Jerusalem in exchange for bribes – in one of the worst fraud schemes in the country’s history.
If the court does reopen the case for Zaken to testify, Olmert’s legal team could also try to derail her new assault on the former prime minister with counterattacks that they had held back from while the two were cooperating.
If the court announces Olmert’s verdict, the plea bargain would reportedly require Zaken to cooperate with the state in filing a new indictment against him for the obstruction of justice charges.
In the Holyland trial, which began days before the first trial ended, Olmert was accused of accepting over NIS 1.5 million in bribes – out of around NIS 9m. in bribes given to public officials in total.
It is said he had accepted the money via Zaken and his brother, Yossi, to “smooth over” various legal and zoning obstacles. The allegations relate to the 1993-mid 2000s period when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and infrastructure, trade. and industry minister.
The prosecution’s closing arguments downsized Olmert’s alleged bribe sum to around NIS 800,000.
In the early days of the trial, in July 2012, the late Shmuel Duchner – who for roughly eight months was known as S.D. – had charged Olmert and the other defendants with a wide range of highly specific charges that were backed up with a mound of documents.
He said that originally, the project was approved only for building on 25,000 meters of land. However, due to the bribes, 311,000 meters of land were approved for construction.
One of the many instances where Duchner said he paid bribes to Olmert through Zaken was when she requested emergency assistance to pay a NIS 50,000 debt of Olmert’s. He said he responded by giving Olmert’s driver $10,000 that he had on hand, having just returned from a trip abroad.
In January 2013, the prosecution called Morris Talansky to testify that Olmert had convinced him to pay his brother Yossi $30,000 in 2014.
According to the prosecution, this proved Olmert’s manner of operation, getting people to pay him bribes via helping Yossi.
However, during Duchner’s cross-examination, he admitted that some of his allegations were made up to sweeten the case and that he had forged some of the documents he presented as evidence.
Olmert’s lawyers showed that Duchner had done a messy photocopy job in combining unrelated documents. They showed that a telephone number on one document did not exist on the date that the document was allegedly drafted.
Duchner’s death on March 2013 proved a blow to the prosecution’s case. It not only removed the state’s main witness from pushing its case forward, but gave Olmert’s lawyers an opportunity to demand certain charges be dropped – since they did not get to cross-examine the witness. Such charges include NIS 500,000 Duchner allegedly gave to Yossi.
But Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen may decide that enough cross-examination took place or that enough external evidence exists to convict Olmert.
In May 2013, life was breathed back into the prosecution’s case when Olmert’s wayward brother, Yossi, testifying from the US, wrecked portions of Ehud’s narrative and built-up the credibility of Duchner’s earlier testimony.
The key point around Yossi Olmert’s testimony was whether in 2002-2003 Duchner had given him NIS 500,000 and whether Duchner did this as a bribe for Ehud’s helping to move the Holyland project forward.
The prosecution said that Yossi had previously told police that he met with Duchner and was given NIS 500,000.
Next, they said that there was no possible reason for Duchner to give Yossi these funds other than by Ehud’s request.
Ehud’s simple if not entirely impermeable main defense was that Duchner was running around trying to bribe or find favor with people, but Ehud never requested or knew about it.
When Yossi testified to the court, he changed the story he told police, telling the court he had never met Duchner or gotten money from him. He then admitted he had received money from Duchner in 1996.
Still, Olmert did not take funds directly from Duchner, and most of Duchner’s contact with him was through Zaken, who received independent gifts from him, including expensive jewelry – which she argued were gifts rather than bribes.
If Olmert is found innocent, he will have dodged over five years of legal bullets and could be on his way to returning to power. If he is found guilty, his career would likely be over and he might be facing jail time.