What do the latest Olmert recordings mean for his legal saga?

The new recordings have joined an already stranger-than-fiction saga of Olmert’s legal entanglements.

Olmert corruption trial (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Olmert corruption trial
If former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s multiple trials had not sealed him a unique place in the state’s legal history, the multiple rounds of disturbing recordings, the latest of which were released Thursday, have certainly done the job.
Until Thursday, most of the recordings of the talks Shula Zaken, Olmert’s top aide for around 30 years, had with him related to the Talansky Affair.
The Talansky Affair involved allegations that Olmert illegally received funds from US businessman Morris Talansky, including massive amounts of cash in envelopes.
Though it led to Olmert’s resignation as prime minister in 2008, he originally emerged largely unscathed from that affair and the RishonTours Affair in the July 2012 verdict of the Jerusalem corruption trial (his only conviction being in the more minor Investment Affair).
But then Olmert was convicted of bribery and sentenced to six years in prison in the separate Tel Aviv Holyland trial, and the Supreme Court sent the Talansky Affair back for a retrial before the Jerusalem District Court.
The heart of the retrial has been Zaken’s testimony, journal and two tapes allegedly showing that Olmert knew the Talansky funds were being used illegally and not merely for permitted political purposes.
The latest eight tapes, approved for publication by the Supreme Court on Thursday, foreshadow the opening of a third front by the prosecution against Olmert, a new indictment for obstruction of justice and witness tampering in both the Talansky and Holyland cases.
The allegations are that before and during both trials, Olmert promised Zaken money from allies of his, jobs (and in one situation for her son Nadav) from allies of his and funding of her legal defense in exchange for her turning down multiple offers by the state to turn state’s witness against Olmert.
In the Holyland case, the allegations are that the recordings also show that Olmert directed Zaken how to lie in a way that most benefited his defense against bribery allegations.
In the most blatant conversation cited by the press, it appears that in December 2013, after Zaken had testified in the Holyland trial but was under heavy pressure to cut a deal, Olmert is heard offering Zaken $10,000 a month for continuing to cooperate with him regarding the trial, including if she ends up going to jail to protect him.
Olmert’s legal team has blasted Zaken as putting words into his mouth and manipulating Olmert to frame him to improve her chances for a deal, knowing that she was facing possibly around six to seven years in prison without one.
The state is convinced that the tapes speak for themselves and that Olmert’s recent decision not to testify and rebut the tapes in the Talansky retrial shows his answers go only to technicalities and not to the substance of the allegations against him.
His best hope at avoiding a third trial at this point are: the state already may have him beat in two cases, initiating a third case may look like unfair political crusading against Olmert, and that a third case might also require going after highly respected defense lawyer Navot Tal-Tsur.
Zaken also taped Tal-Tsur seemingly “advising” her for her own good, and for Olmert’s own good, not to cut a deal with the state.
Unfortunately for Olmert, the state may only have hit “pause” on the third case, and the hesitance to file the third case may be mere biding time until a court rules in favor of Zaken’s credibility in the Talansky retrial, at which point the state can pocket that ruling and use it against Olmert in the third case.
Whatever the state’s final decision on the third case, the new recordings have joined an already stranger-than-fiction saga of Olmert’s legal entanglements.