Saying that something bizarre and unheard of happened in the Holyland trial should already be cliché – but it keeps happening.
After the state and Shula Zaken’s defense lawyer argued on Thursday to the court in favor of accepting her plea bargain, it was Zaken’s turn to read a typical pre-written, formulaic statement of regret.
The former chief of staff to Ehud Olmert tried to follow this script, starting with saying that she was “as sorry as I can be” for her actions, but Judge David Rozen sent her spiraling off-course with a much more unrehearsed cross-examination.
Courts almost never ask about anything during a defendant’s statement of regret, other than trying to make sure the regret is genuine.
Rozen decided to take the opportunity to press Zaken to explain the nuts and bolts of how the bribery scheme for which he just convicted Olmert and several others had worked.
While Zaken briefly looked back anxiously at her lawyer at certain points, she eventually pressed forward.
Suddenly she was blurting out more revelations per minute than the reporters present could keep up with.
Several minutes passed in which she was revealing both aspects of the new investigation against Olmert and aspects that even the new investigation missed, before her lawyer and the state prosecutor competed for jumping out of their seats demanding that she stop.
While Zaken is presumably telling the truth now, and at trial was (by her own admission) lying, the consistent element about her is that once the bubbly former Olmert aide started going, she was out of control and could not help revealing secrets that no one (except maybe the curious Rozen) wanted revealed.
Zaken said that although Olmert was only convicted for indirectly overseeing bribes between his associates and Shmuel Duchner, including her, she actually brought the Holyland bribery money directly to him.
She said that Olmert counted the bribery money and divided it up into funds he wanted to use soon, funds that she should hold onto for later use and funds that she should pass on to Olmert’s confidante Uri Messer to keep in a safe.
Unable to help herself, she added that Olmert used the near-term funds not only to pay election debts, but to purchase expensive cigars and expensive tailored suits.
Zaken said she knew about the suits because she would make appointments for tailors to come to Olmert’s office to take his measurements and knew about the cigars because she sometimes purchased them at duty free stores in airports.
Whereas Olmert’s convictions were for NIS 60,000 and NIS 500,000 bribery convictions, respectively, she confirmed that he had received over NIS 1.5 million in Holyland bribes over time (some charges were not brought against Olmert because they were from too long ago).
On the NIS 500,000 that Duchner gave to Olmert’s brother Yossi, Zaken confirmed for the first time that she set up a meeting between Duchner and Yossi at Ehud’s request when he told her “there is no choice” because of the need to “help Yossi” with his debts.
Zaken added that her journal, which the state is trying to bring into evidence against Olmert to overturn his acquittals in the July 2012 Jerusalem corruption trial, listed all sorts of incriminating entries regarding illegal monies.
The journal could not be used in the case at the time, because it was hearsay as Zaken was then unwilling to testify about it.
She explained that she had refused to testify because Olmert said that state prosecutor Uri Korb would, metaphorically, “kill her [double-cross her in any deal].”
Zaken started to reveal which of Olmert’s associates allegedly told her not to cooperate with the state – until prosecutors again hit the ceiling insisting that the judge direct her away from this still-secret evidence.
None of this was supposed to come out during her simple statement of regret.
But Zaken’s inability to stay on script has damaged the former premier throughout the Holyland case (even when she was trying to lie in a way that would benefit him), and her continued revelations may even make the unthinkable possible – an additional maximum nine-year prison sentence for Olmert for obstruction and witness tampering.