Shula Zaken, who served as bureau chief for former prime minister Ehud Olmert,
began her much-anticipated testimony in the Holyland trial on Sunday, following
the end of Olmert’s cross-examination, telling the court that her state of mind
when responding to police questioning bordered on suicidal.
under indictment before the Tel Aviv District Court for receiving large bribes
from main state witness Shmuel Duchner, including a lump sum of NIS 350,000,
expensive earrings, furniture and other items.
Duchner, who died midtrial
in March, testified that he gave Zaken the bribes at Olmert’s direction in order
to win the former prime minister’s cooperation in overcoming legal and zoning
obstacles for the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem.
Zaken’s statements to police, she admitted to receiving items from Duchner but
gave contradictory accounts as to why, which led Judge David Rozen to call her
connection with Duchner “corrupt.”
Rozen demanded several times that
Olmert explain how his denial of knowing anything about Duchner’s alleged
bribing of Zaken jived with Zaken’s claims that Olmert knew or that she assumed
he knew. Olmert responded many times that only Zaken could explain her
contradictory statements and her relationship with Duchner.
direct testimony, when finally telling her side of the story, was expected to
include explanations as to why she gave contradictory statements to police, some
of which indicated a corrupt relationship with Duchner.
Zaken said that
her statements to police needed to be viewed from the perspective of her
distraught state of mind at the time.
According to Zaken, she was
arrested and taken for questioning immediately after returning to Israel from a
trip to the US; she endured harsh searches and a full week in prison under
difficult conditions while being constantly manipulated and pressured by prison
officials and police, she said.
“From meeting with the psychiatrist, I
thought about committing suicide,” Zaken said, claiming that police tried to
manipulate her by telling her that Olmert had essentially spit in her face and
thrown her under the bus to save himself. (She used a quasi-obscene Hebrew
metaphor with no exact English equivalent.) Zaken said that the misleading
questions asked by police and their failure to let her confront Duchner show
they were “not interested in the truth” and “only in getting Olmert.” Under
these conditions, some of what she had told police, which hurt her and Olmert’s
case, was inaccurate but was said under intense pressure and confusion, she
Zaken spoke at length about her relationship with Duchner,
saying he always called her “Mamale” or “Bubale” and that she always called him
“sweetie.” She added that they would talk sometimes late into the night and
implied that they were very close and “more than work colleagues,” although she
provided no details indicating an official romance or affair. (Zaken was and is
married.) Zaken emphasized that she had “never asked” for anything that Duchner
bought her, that she certainly never promised him anything in return regarding
the Holyland project, and that he “always offered” to buy her items on his own
She clearly said that all of his allegations of bribery “are
false.” Olmert, in fact, had finished his cross-examination earlier with
questions about whether his having helped pay legal bills for Zaken was
problematic or showed any attempt by him to “buy” her favorable testimony and
refusal to cooperate with the prosecution.
He asked rhetorically, “Would
I just throw her away?” implying that she was under indictment only because
police were unjustifiably trying to bring him down.
Olmert added that he
did not pay any of her legal bills “in this trial.”
Olmert severely about why he gave Duchner an update on discussions he had with
then prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2002 relating to the Israel Salt Industries
Affair and why he met with Duchner only 10 days after becoming a minister in
Olmert said he had not revealed any classified information in 2002
and that the 2003 meeting was part of a series of meetings with many businessmen
upon becoming a minister.
Rozen implied that Olmert’s actions showed that
he was trying to aid Duchner illegally in the Israel Salt Industries projects,
which was partially separate and partially connected to the Holyland Affair,
since both, although distinct from one another, involved Duchner’s bribing of
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