In Olmert trial, Zaken cracks on the stand, her lawyer asks for ‘time out’

Olmert’s former top aid accuses prosecution of "bribing" Shmuel Duchner to bring down former prime minister.

October 8, 2013 19:08
3 minute read.
Olmert, Zaken

Olmert, Zaken 370. (photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)

Shula Zaken cracked under pressure late Tuesday afternoon during her testimony in the Holyland trial, even disagreeing with her defense lawyer about what happened to $100,000 that the state’s main witness, Shmuel Duchner, had given her. The lawyer then whisked her off the stand, obtaining the court’s permission to adjourn until Thursday.

Zaken had previously said that maybe she had used or transferred the funds to benefit former prime minister Ehud Olmert (which appeared to be what her defense lawyer, Ofer Bartal, expected her to say), but later said that she had used it all for her own benefit.

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Immediately Bartal informed the court that he believed Zaken to be emotionally unhinged and asked to adjourn. The court agreed to the request.

Earlier in the day – her second day of testimony in the trial – Zaken said the state’s main witness had “sold his soul to Satan.”

Zaken, who served as Olmert’s bureau chief, added that “the only bribery that was given in this case was the State of Israel to Duchner.”

She claimed that Duchner had lied about bribing her and Olmert, and that the state had unscrupulously bought his story out of excitement for bringing down the former prime minister.

She also said that in retrospect, her acceptance of gifts and funds from Duchner worth hundreds of thousands of shekels was, in light of his having had significant business with her office regarding the Holyland project, “not appropriate, but not criminal.”

The Holyland trial against Olmert, Zaken and 14 other defendants – including former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski – involves the uncovering of an alleged mass plot by businessman Hillel Cherny and Duchner to bribe public officials to overcome legal and zoning obstacles to the large real estate project in south Jerusalem – mostly between 1993 and 1999 when Olmert was mayor, but also continuing for some years after.

Zaken explained that she had thought Duchner kept giving her gifts because of a “romantic connection” between them and that even when she had tried to refuse, he had insisted, implying he would be offended if she did not accept his gifts.

She also admitted to “taking day trips” with Duchner during which they would “hold hands,” and said he had called her frequently and invested time in her for years “as a woman” and with “no connection to work,” before he had started buying her gifts.

Zaken described her connection with Duchner as extremely close, but not crossing sexual boundaries.

She said that at the time, she had ignored the “warning lights” of what such a relationship and gifts could mean with somebody engaged in business with her office, but recognized in retrospect that Duchner had had other, improper motives.

Still, she contended that Duchner’s giving her gifts and funds proved nothing, as she’d had no influence over the Holyland project or similar policy issues.

In fact, she said that not only did Olmert not know about the gifts she had received from Duchner and the extent of their relationship, but Duchner had known that Olmert did not know – which was what made Duchner’s version of events a story of blatant lies.

Rather, she said her role had been to be Olmert’s gatekeeper, schedule-keeper, message- deliverer, handler (including making sure he ate lunch and returned telephone calls) and top administrator not involved with policy.

Duchner’s giving Zaken jewelry, furniture and at one point as much as NIS 350,000 – allegedly at Olmert’s request – has put her under the gun numerous times before Judge David Rozen and has also complicated Olmert’s ability to defend himself against bribery charges, though he has denied knowing that Zaken was receiving funds from Duchner.

Despite her denial of having any business involvement with the Holyland project, Zaken was also questioned about advancing Duchner’s proposals regarding the project, but she said that another Olmert aide, Oved Yehezkel, had been responsible for such issues.

In response, Rozen commented that it appeared that Zaken was accusing Yehezkel of crimes of which she was accused and that she was saying, “He should be a suspect in this case.”

Zaken also rejected any notion that she had swayed Olmert in favor of Duchner’s proposals, commenting sarcastically that Duchner had forgotten to accuse her of “activating Olmert” by placing “batteries inside” him.

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