Olmert testifies in Holyland trial, attacks integrity of state's witness, denies taking bribes

Former PM: Witness Duchner's bribery claims "a lie, made up"; denies Duchner gave gifts, money to former bureau chief Zaken.

EHUD OLMERT 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert took the stand for the first time in the Holyland corruption trial against him on Sunday, attacking the integrity of the state’s main witness and the prosecution, as well as his brother Yossi, while vehemently denying he ever took bribes.
Olmert frequently slammed his fist on the witness stand at the Tel Aviv District Court and appeared to be genuinely furious. He said that the claims Shmuel Duchner, who died mid-trial in March, made against him were a lie.
The only reason “my name was wrongly injected into this was to get millions from the state,” Olmert said.
He lashed out at the state, and when Judge David Rozen requested that he not attack the state in such personal terms, he retorted angrily that the prosecution had accused him of “being corrupt.”
The former prime minister also denied the allegation that he had asked Duchner to pay NIS 350,000 to his bureau chief Shula Zaken as a bribe for him.
Next, Olmert denied knowledge of Duchner’s allegations that he had paid significant funds to Olmert’s brother Yossi and purchased other expensive items for Zaken as bribes at Olmert’s behest to obtain his support for the Holyland real estate project in Jerusalem.
He questioned the trustworthiness of testimony given by Duchner, saying that “the Duchner I met in 1994 was not the Duchner I met in this trial.”
When asked if he was bribed by Duchner, as Duchner had claimed, Olmert said, “It never was and it never happened. It’s a lie and made up.” Olmert also denied knowledge of Duchner giving NIS 350,000 or other gifts and jewelry to his former bureau chief Shula Zaken.
When asked about a document Duchner admitted he forged to boost the case against him, the former prime minister said, “Duchner’s job was falsifying, so why be surprised?” The former prime minister became visibly angry when discussing the forged document. He slammed his hand on the table and attacked the state for allowing its main witness to bring a forged document into the court and not checking its authenticity.
“All of Duchner’s false stories were created to convince the state that they had a big fish and to bring down Ehud Olmert,” he proclaimed on the witness stand.
He added that he had “expected more” from the prosecution, implying that if it had submitted documents to the court that Duchner later admitted were forgeries, then it had not carefully checked Duchner’s allegations.
Regarding his brother Yossi, Ehud said that their relationship was “weak,” filled with “tension” and that he was careful to “keep his distance” from him.
Ehud explained that he had multiple conflicts with Yossi.
In several instances, because he believed Yossi was not qualified, Ehud did not support his brother in eventually failed runs for political office, nor did he help him obtain plum jobs that he had asked his help in getting.
Ehud also said his brother was angry when he gave him only NIS 10,000 to help with his debts and that Yossi said he needed “millions” to pay them.
The former prime minister also said that because of their distance, he did not know how desperately poor his brother’s financial situation was.
In that vein, Ehud said it was preposterous that he would have gone out of his way to have Duchner pay Yossi NIS 500,000 to help with his debts.
Rather, Ehud said, if he had been ready to help his brother in a larger way than he was already doing, he would have helped him get a better job and in a legal fashion.
Olmert said that many of the scenarios that the prosecution was entertaining in interpreting various events in the worst possible light against him, such as that he would obtain bribes to help his estranged brother, showed that it would go after him “for anything” and it was treating him as if he were “a fool.”
Earlier in his testimony on Sunday, Olmert said the Holyland project was “important for developing Jerusalem,” was “right to do at the time, and the right thing to do in retrospect.”