Did Olmert know they were listening?

Shula Zaken’s lawyer says prosecution witness - a former secretary of the former prime minister - is wrong.

By DAN IZENBERG
March 24, 2010 03:22
3 minute read.
Did Olmert know they were listening?

shula zaken 298 AJ. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

 
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One of Ehud Olmert’s former secretaries testified on Tuesday that she had eavesdropped on the ex-prime minister’s phone conversations with former prime minister Ariel Sharon and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, but was unable to recall the contents of those conversations.

The main part of the Tuesday hearing in the Jerusalem District Court focused on the allegation that Olmert’s close aide, Shula Zaken, had ordered the secretaries in her office to eavesdrop on Olmert’s conversations during the time he served as minister of industry, trade and labor under then-prime minister Sharon.

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Secretary Pazit Ben-Yisrael was in charge of arranging his multi-participant, work-related office meetings.

Like two of her coworkers who testified on Monday, Ben-Yisrael told the court that she had listened in on conversations at Zaken’s orders. Like them, she said that when Zaken had wanted the secretaries to listen in, she would make a sign, either pointing to her ear or drawing a small circle in her coiled notebook. Also like the other two, Ben-Yisrael said she believed Olmert had not known the secretaries were listening to his calls.

During the criminal investigation into the allegations against Zaken, Ben-Yisrael was questioned twice, in May and September 2008. On both occasions, she said she had listened in on a conversation with Sharon.

During the first questioning session, she also said she had listened in on a conversation between Olmert and Netanyahu. In both rounds of questioning, she told the police she had listened in on no more than four or five conversations.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Zaken’s lawyer, Micha Fettman, asked Ben-Yisrael to tell the court about the content of Olmert’s conversations with Sharon and Netanyahu. Ben-Yisrael replied that she did not remember.

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Fettman said it was difficult to understand how she could not remember a conversation with the prime minister. Even the head of the panel of judges, Jerusalem District Court President Moussia Arad, expressed surprise that the witness could not recall a conversation with such an important personality.

“I put it to you,” Fettman concluded, after asking her the same question several times, “that you did not listen in on the conversations of Sharon or Bibi [Netanyahu]. Shula listened in on Olmert’s conversations with Sharon with Olmert’s permission. Had she wanted to listen in on Olmert’s conversations with Bibi, she would have done so herself. Your memory is betraying you.”

But Ben-Yisrael repeatedly insisted that she had listened in on conversations with Sharon and Netanyahu.

“I was the one who connected them, and I was on the line. I listened in on [Zaken’s] orders,” she said.


Fettman also argued that it had been known to all the secretaries in the office and anyone else who happened to be there at the time, that the secretaries listened in on the conversations. Zaken had no secret code, and all the secretaries who testified in court said that Zaken had never instructed them not to talk about eavesdropping on Olmert’s conversations, Fettman said.

Furthermore, he added, although all three had told the court that Olmert did not know about the eavesdropping, it was only an assumption on their part; they did not know this to be a fact.

“All the secretaries in the office testify that there were instances of listening in [on Olmert’s conversations]; all the secretaries testify that there was no secrecy about it,” Fettman told reporters after the hearing.

“It was known and open. They all knew it. Everything was done routinely and for work purposes. The implications of this should be one thing and one thing only: The state and district prosecutions should meet and declare, ‘We made a mistake.’”

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