Former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
(photo credit: ELI MANDELBAUM)
With nearly daily reports about a possible deal between Shula Zaken and the state for her to testify against Ehud Olmert in the Holyland trial, the court announced on Monday that, absent unforeseen developments, the verdict will be handed down on March 31.
Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen’s decision to push forward with a verdict in a matter of weeks, despite all the recent intrigue about Olmert’s former top aide of 30 years possibly turning state’s witness against him, appears to signal that he has no interest in drawn-out negotiations on the issue and is ready to rule.
Although some had predicted Rozen would not issue his ruling until late spring or even early summer, one move which may have paved the way for moving up the verdict was a decision by defense attorneys to waive their right to oral closing arguments.
Oral arguments were scheduled for March 9, but on Monday, the court announced it had canceled the hearing upon request from the defense attorneys.
With no oral closing arguments, the court has already had some months to review the written closing arguments and all of some 20 months of testimony.
On Sunday, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel had sent a letter to State Attorney Shai Nitzan requesting that the prosecution cut a deal with Zaken to improve the chances of convicting Olmert in the Holyland trial.
The NGO had said that it was important to reveal her testimony to the public.
The movement explained that it sent its letter to Nitzan and to the prosecution’s Financial Crime Division director Liat Ben-Ari Shooki in light of the ongoing negotiations between the prosecution and Zaken, Olmert’s top aide for decades.
The Holyland trial involves Olmert, Zaken, and 14 other prominent public servants and business persons, all accused of paying or receiving bribes to overcome legal and zoning obstacles to the massive Holyland real estate project in southern Jerusalem.
Olmert has denied all allegations and has blasted the state as being desperate for a plea bargain with Zaken this late in the case – a case which is essentially just waiting for a verdict.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that Zaken wants to cut a deal with the prosecution, but this is still very uncertain on two grounds.
First, it is unclear whether Zaken’s testimony and evidence could really substantially impact the trial.
Second, there appear to be disagreements between Zaken and the prosecution as to whether a deal would involve merely reduced jail time for her or no jail time at all.
Reports of a possible deal have also included the possibility of her testifying against Olmert in the Jerusalem corruption trial, in which he was mostly acquitted in July 2012.
Procedurally, while it is not impossible for Zaken to turn against Olmert in either the Holyland or Jerusalem corruption trials, doing so in either is fraught with obstacles, since the Jerusalem trial has technically ended and Zaken has concluded her testimony in the Holyland trial.
The NGO explained that it believes revealing Zaken’s testimony could be crucial to the general fight against public corruption in the country.
Reports surfaced at the end of last week that Zaken was reconsidering her multiple rejections years ago of the state’s offers of a plea bargain to turn state’s witness against Olmert.
Reportedly, Zaken was angry at how Olmert and Olmert’s lawyers treated her near the end of the Holyland trial and in television interviews.
While plea bargain talks appear to be continuing, time is running out as the verdict date approaches.