Former prime minister Olmert and his ex-bureau chief Shula Zaken.
(photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Police once again questioned Shula Zaken on Wednesday, bringing her one step closer to a plea bargain to turn state’s witness against her former boss, ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert, in the Holyland corruption trial.
A deal is still up in the air and dependent on several factors, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Zaken gave testimony for eight hours, and, according to the police, “gave her version of subjects she chose to talk about.” The content of the session will be passed on to prosecutors, they added.
First, it appears that Zaken has accepted the prosecution’s condition that she serve reduced jail time of around a year, such that even a deal would not give her complete immunity. If Zaken tries to back out of that condition, there may be no agreement.
Second, the prosecution will only make a decision about whether to cut a deal with Zaken after it has reviewed her new testimony to police.
In that context, the prosecution will agree to a plea bargain of reduced jail time only if Zaken adds something substantially new to the mix that will significantly help it in both the Holyland and Jerusalem corruption trials.
The Holyland trial is one of the largest bribery and fraud schemes ever uncovered in Israel, with Olmert and Zaken being two of 16 prominent defendants accused of giving or receiving bribes to smooth over legal and zoning obstacles to the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem.
Zaken had remained staunchly loyal to Olmert over five years of trials until recently, when his and his lawyer’s statements against her angered her and led to her possible change of heart to cooperate with the state.
There are significant procedural and substantive challenges to the prosecution using anything new that Zaken offers, since the Jerusalem trial ended with a mostly not guilty verdict for Olmert in July 2012 and the Holyland trial is essentially finished, with only the verdict left to be announced on March 31.
Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen only recently announced the March 31 verdict date, perhaps signaling that he is impatient with the time the parties are taking to reach a deal and that he might not let Zaken return to the witness stand.
Amir Dan, Olmert’s spokesman, said, “Throughout the case, there was a clear and uniform picture – Olmert never received any bribe, not from Shmuel Duchner and not from anyone else – this picture has not changed!” Duchner, the main state’s witness in the Holyland case, died mid-trial last June.
Dan continued, “The prosecution, which is in a desperate position,” has suspended its judgment and implied that it was running madly after “false declarations based on nothing.”
Dan slammed the prosecution for seeking a plea bargain at such a late stage in the case, noting that such a deal would delay a decision in the case by “many months” beyond the current March 31 verdict date.
He called the possible agreement “astounding” in being negotiated after the trial was essentially over and said its “true purpose” was to “continue the completely inhuman pursuit” of Olmert that has lasted “already for many years.”