During closing argument of the Holyland corruption trial on Tuesday, Ofer Bartal, Shula Zaken’s lawyer, told the Tel Aviv District Court that Shmuel Duchner’s bribes were not intended for Zaken, but rather for former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Duchner was the self-admitted front man for the massive Holyland real estate fraud and bribery scheme, as well as the state’s main witness, until he died mid-trial in March 2013. He had turned state’s witness as part of an immunity deal that included monthly payments from the state for an extended period.
The state and Duchner had accused Olmert, his top aide Zaken, former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and 13 other major public and business figures and entities of receiving bribes varying from millions to hundreds of thousands of shekels between the years 1993 and 2003. The bribes were allegedly given to smooth over legal and zoning obstacles to the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem.
Olmert argued that even if Duchner gave large sums of money to Zaken – which she has admitted to receiving – that he did not know of them and that they had nothing to do with him. Olmert said they were either bribes solely for her or were gifts due to the romantic relations between Duchner and Zaken.
Bartal’s argument, on behalf of Zaken, was that Olmert and Zaken were inseparable and that she was Olmert’s alter ego, and thus any funds given to her were not intended for her. Rather, he argued, they were part of Duchner’s plans to bribe Olmert, who as then-mayor of Jerusalem wielded the true power over the project, not Zaken.
As close as the two were, however, if the alleged bribes were designated for Olmert, and Zaken did not know they were bribes, then she could not have been guilty, Bartal said.
Furthermore, he argued that Zaken had received some money that she clearly did not use for Olmert but thought were given to her by Duchner because of their romantic connection.
Bartal said, however, that Zaken was guilty of breach of public trust and that she was no angel. “Ms.
Zaken, unfortunately, is no righteous person,” and the things she has “admitted to, were invalid and likely criminal.
“We think that she definitely committed the crime of breach of public trust,” he said, but bounded the admission by adding that the specific crime she had admitted to could not lead to a conviction, because it passed “the statute of limitations,” meaning it occurred too long ago to be prosecuted.
Next, Bartal said that “despite all of these very not good and very unpleasant actions, which might constitute criminal violations, we think that the jump from breach of public trust to bribery, is a very big jump.”
Bartal frequently described Zaken as “humiliated,” depressed and thinking unclearly during her statements to police and during her testimony in court.
He implied that some of Zaken’s admissions in court, which she made against her own interest, came from the humiliation of Olmert implying, in his testimony, that she was corrupt.
The court contradicted many of Bartal’s points and did not appear to fully accept his narrative about why Zaken made statements against her own interest, in particular noting that the police had treated her very carefully.
Amir Dan, Olmert’s spokesman, said: “Mr. Olmert has emphasized from day one that the Holyland Affair was publicized, that in no way, in no manner, did he ever accept a bribe from Duchner or anyone else.”
He added that “this is also the picture that was revealed clearly in court. The closing arguments of attorney Bartal on behalf of Ms.
Zaken deal with the accusations against her, and we have no intention of responding to them.”