Holyland trial proceeds temporarily without Zaken

Court prohibits hospitalized former Olmert bureau chief from leaving country until completing testimony.

Shula Zaken 390 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shula Zaken 390
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen on Thursday ordered the Holyland trial to proceed on Sunday with additional defendants even as all parties await the recovery of Shula Zaken, hospitalized in a dramatic development Wednesday night.
Zaken is viewed by many as the key witness in the case, since she served as former prime minister Ehud Olmert's former bureau chief and is one of the prosecution's best hopes for linking Olmert to the bribery charges he is accused of.
The defendants, the tenth (Eliezer Shamchiyuf) and eleventh (Avraham Piner) defendants of the 16 in the case, are not considered as critical as Zaken, but their testimony must be heard at some point before the trial can conclude.
Simultaneous with permitting Zaken a delay to testifying pending her medical recovery, the court issued an order prohibiting her from leaving the country, to avoid any possibility of her trying to escape testifying and any punishment she might face for conviction.
The drama built on Tuesday’s tension in which Zaken’s lawyer, Ofer Bartal, suddenly requested a “time-out” in her testimony in the Tel Aviv District Court after she apparently contradicted a pre-agreed upon narrative they had discussed and possibly admitted to aspects of the bribery crimes for which she is charged.
Zaken is charged with receiving bribes from main state witness Shmuel Duchner, personally, as well as by request of Olmert in exchange for Olmert smoothing over legal and zoning obstacles for the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem. Olmert is charged with receiving NIS 1.5 million in bribes from Duchner, mostly as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 1999, but also afterward as a cabinet minister.
Zaken was hospitalized after testifying in a tense hearing about her romantic relationship with Duchner, who himself was hospitalized throughout earlier stages of the trial and who died mid-trial in March. Zaken’s cross-examination could be crucial for her and Olmert’s fate in the case.