Court announces March 31 as Holyland verdict date

Former prime minister Olmert's fate to be determined as intrigue with possible Zaken deal continues.

Olmert, Zaken 370 (photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
Olmert, Zaken 370
(photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
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 any imminent 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 of the recent intrigue about Olmert's former top aid of 30 years possibly turning state's witness against him, appears to signal that he has no interest in waiting around for drawn out negotiations on the issue and is ready to rule.
Although sum had estimated Rozen would not rule until late spring or even early summer, one move which may have paved the way for the pushing forward with the verdict was a decision by most defense attorneys to waive their right to oral closing arguments.
Oral closing arguments were scheduled for March 9, but on Monday, the court announced it had cancelled 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 the around 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 plea bargain deal with Zaken in order to improve the chances of convicting Olmert in the Holyland trial.
The NGO had said that it was important to uncover 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 aid for decades.
The Holyland trial involves Olmert, Zaken and 14 other prominent public servants and business persons all accused of paying or receiving bribes in relation to overcoming legal and zoning obstacles to the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem.
Olmert has denied all allegations and has blasted the state as being desperate for potentially seeking a plea bargain deal 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 that a deal 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 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 for which he was already 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 of the trials is fraught with obstacles since the Jerusalem trial technically ended and in the Holyland trial, Zaken technically concluded her testimony and the court has now scheduled a day to announce its verdict.
The NGO explained that it believed 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 for plea bargain deals 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.
Initially, a source at the Justice Ministry appeared to signal some doubt about the talks. At this point, while the talks appear to be continuing, they are now running out of time in light of the verdict date.