Former prime minister Olmert and his ex-bureau chief Shula Zaken.
(photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
After days of unconfirmed reports, the state confirmed on Thursday afternoon that it had cut a deal with Shula Zaken to testify against Ehud Olmert and had asked the court to delay delivering his verdict on Monday.
The decision on whether to delay his verdict is expected late Sunday.
Delaying the verdict would enable police to question Olmert, to put Zaken back on the stand to give her new evidence, and potentially to put Olmert back on the stand in response.
Regardless of what happens with Olmert and Zaken, the verdicts for the other 14 defendants, including former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner, are expected to go forward.
The deal with Zaken reportedly involves her agreeing to serve 11 months in jail and to pay a fine of NIS 100,000, while the state would drop its appeal to the Supreme Court against her acquittals on major charges – she was convicted on two minor counts – in the Jerusalem corruption trial.
Next, the state would reportedly amend its indictment against Zaken to wipe out some of the more serious charges, in order to better guarantee that the court would endorse its plea bargain with her. As her part of the deal, Zaken would testify against Olmert in the state’s appeal against his acquittals in the Jerusalem corruption trial.
Earlier Thursday, reports of the efforts of Zaken and the state trying to reach a plea bargain were ambiguous, some claiming the process successful while others claiming that they had reached a dead end.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Olmert lashed out at the police and the prosecution for allegedly trying to unduly influence Monday’s Holyland trial verdict by manufacturing allegations by Zaken, his former confidante.
In its request to delay the court verdict, the state explained that the statements Zaken made to police on March 5 had been insufficient without corroborating evidence.
At the beginning of the week, Zaken produced a series of cassette tapes, which the state said provide a “serious suspicion” of obstruction of justice and witness tampering by Olmert.
For most of Thursday there was a gag order on the existence of the tapes – despite the media having published their existence Wednesday – as well as on their content.
As of late Thursday, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court permitted mentioning of the existence of the tapes, but prohibited discussing their content in light of a possible new investigation against Olmert.
The Holyland trial involves Olmert, Zaken, and 14 other defendants accused of conspiring to avoid various legal and zoning obstacles for the Holyland real estate project in southern Jerusalem in exchange for bribes, in one of the country’s worst fraud schemes.
If Olmert is found innocent, he will have dodged over five years of legal bullets and could be on his way to returning to power. If he is found guilty, his career would likely be over and he could even face jail time.
Olmert’s public relations team blasted reports of Zaken and the state retrying to reach a deal, stating the “continued slanderous public relations efforts and the line of unending leaks from the police and the prosecution” raise the “serious suspicion of tampering the legal process” before the court.
“Leaks have only one purpose: to unduly influence the legal process on the eve of the verdict set for Monday” in order to try to manufacture a smoking gun, they added.
On Monday, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition seeking to compel the state to change its recent decision not to cut a deal with Zaken, which most presumed meant that Monday’s verdict would go forward as planned.
One of the factors the state had cited in initially rejecting a plea bargain with Zaken was the absence of her having any hard evidence to confirm her allegations against Olmert.
The new deal appears to signal that the tapes could be that missing piece.
Any new testimony or delaying of the verdict would require the court to approve a highly irregular reopening of the case, which it would do only in the most extraordinary circumstances.
If the court does reopen the case for Zaken to testify, Olmert’s legal team could try to derail her new assault with counterattacks against her, which they had held back from as long as the two were cooperating.
Zaken’s lawyers told the media late Thursday that she “crossed the Rubicon” once Olmert’s team had stopped cooperating with her.
Whether Zaken’s statements and the tapes are new “smoking gun” evidence or not, the verdict is so soon and the state had previously already so publicly rejected Zaken, that short of it really being a “smoking gun,” Monday’s verdict may go forward as planned.
However, even in that event, the plea bargain reportedly would require Zaken to cooperate with the state in filing a new indictment against Olmert for the obstruction charges.