The main witness in the Holyland trial against former prime minister Ehud Olmert
and 15 other defendants died on Friday morning.
The witness, referred to
only as S.D. under a gag order, was in his mid-70s. He had been hospitalized at
least three times due to poor health, disrupting the case conducted at the Tel
Aviv District Court.
His death could have a tremendous impact on the
case, but the exact ramifications are not yet clear.
accused of taking bribes regarding the Holyland real-estate project in
southwestern Jerusalem, built to a size far beyond the authorized
The Justice Ministry was taken by surprise on Friday by the news,
and said it would provide updates as the situation developed.
the day, the ministry came out with a strongly worded statement leaving no doubt
that the state would continue to pursue charges against all of the
The statement said S.D. had testified for 75 days in court
over a period of eight months, and that his direct testimony and the months of
cross-examination were sufficient for both prosecution and defense
The ministry added that its position since the start of the
case had been that while S.D.
was the main witness, the primary case was
based on documents from other parties and sources, thus there was no reason to
declare a mistrial.
Olmert’s spokesman did not respond by press time to
inquiries about his strategy, or if he would seek a mistrial.
is a situation where the court decides that charges must be dropped, regardless
of a defendant’s innocence or guilt, because the inability to complete
cross-examination of a witness precludes a defendant’s right to a fair
The state expressed “great sadness” at S.D.’s death and said it
“shared in the sorrow of his family.” S.D. is due to be buried on Sunday, which
will delay court proceedings until Monday morning.
Until further court
notice, the gag order on S.D.’s identity still applies.
Amnon Yitzhak told Army Radio the case had been “an emotional and physical
burden on an old and sick man.” Yitzhak explained that his client felt ill
overnight, and died at 4:30 a.m., though doctors tried to resuscitate
During a hearing on Thursday, hours before S.D.’s death, Olmert’s
lawyer Roi Belcher confronted the witness with many details that had emerged in
the affair and accused him of being a “pathological liar.”
“He can say
what he wants, and I can’t say that he is a pathological liar?” Belcher
Over the past week, Olmert’s legal team pounded the witness,
getting him to admit that he gave documents to the state – presented in court as
evidence – that he himself had falsified.
At the start of the case,
had admitted to falsifying documents and stories against the
defendants, but said the forgeries had only been submitted in his earlier civil
action, and that everything he told the court in the criminal proceeding was
Over the course of other defendants’ cross-examination of the
witness, it was proven that he had also falsified documents used in the current
criminal proceedings against them.
On Tuesday, in a documentary analysis
that S.D. at first resisted, but eventually gave in to, Olmert’s legal team
proved for the first time that a document which S.D. and the state had
submitted, to prove Olmert’s involvement in corruption surrounding the Holyland
project, was a forgery.
S.D. said the document showed a 1994 request from
Olmert to involve the Barzilai accounting firm in the Holyland project. His
handwriting appeared on the document and Olmert’s legal team proved that S.D.
had forged the document, because the telephone number that appeared on it could
not have existed until 1996, at the earliest.
S.D. appeared to
alternately admit it was a forgery, suggest the photocopy might have been
recopied on another page at a later date, and say he had forgotten the
Realizing the potential damage to his credibility
resulting from the line of questioning, S.D. told the court, “I forged
documents, but not systematically.”
Not willing to let the witness wiggle
out of this legal fire zone, Belcher jumped in and asked if he had forged
documents “with the purpose of misleading the authorities,” playing on the idea
that S.D. could also be misleading the court.
The witness admitted he had
forged documents with that purpose in mind.
Later in the hearing, Judge
David Rozen temporarily dropped the traditional judge’s mask, indirectly
implying that Olmert’s lawyers had succeeded in sowing doubts in his mind about
the evidence against Olmert.
Rozen also made a remark to Belcher
suggesting that since the case against Olmert was weak, they could wrap it up,
and the court could move on to other defendants who faced more serious
Emotions ran high throughout the hearing, with S.D. and Belcher
calling each other a “liar” numerous times, and the court having to intervene,
asking the parties to refrain from “personal attacks.”
Olmert received another big break in the case, when his lawyers revealed a list
from S.D.’s diary, containing the names of people who had received bribes, and
from which Olmert’s was absent.
The forged document from Tuesday’s
hearing could cause the judge to conclude that he must now doubt the veracity of
all documents presented by S.D. against Olmert.
Belcher also exposed the
witness as either forgetting, or lying about not remembering, that Olmert had
supported the Holyland project, including at public press conferences with
former tourism minister Uzi Baram, even before the earliest date when S.D. said
he had bribed Olmert for his support.Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to