Olmert's ex-aide stomps out of court after former premier's testimony

Shula Zaken, the ex-premier's former bureau chief, is unhappy over what she perceives as his failure to adequately come to her defense.

Olmert, Zaken 370 (photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
Olmert, Zaken 370
(photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
Shula Zaken, the former bureau chief of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, stomped out of court on Thursday in dramatic fashion after an exchange in which she implied he had not defended her sufficiently.
The exchange, which took place during cross-examination, and on the third day this week of Olmert’s testimony during his trial in Tel Aviv District Court, began when Judge David Rozen said Zaken’s receipt of significant funds in checks from the state’s main witness Shmuel Duchner signified a “corrupt connection” between the two.
Rozen indicated that Zaken’s receipt of the funds in a context where Duchner was dependent on Olmert’s office for approvals in moving forward the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem was inherently problematic.
In response, while Olmert had parried earlier more general statements by the prosecution and the court against Zaken, he said that her receipt of the checks was a harder issue, but that he “would not have used the word ‘corrupt’” as the court did, as “it could be possible to explain her actions in a different manner – maybe Shula will explain it.”
Zaken’s actions indicated that this qualified denial did not satisfy her.
Prior to filing the case as well as the separate Jerusalem corruption trial, the prosecution tried hard to convince Zaken to turn state’s witness against Olmert in exchange for more lenient treatment for herself as a defendant in both cases.
She did not, and has been, until now, seen in court having warm exchanges with Olmert.
Olmert and Zaken are two of 15 defendants in the trial, with Olmert accused of receiving NIS 1.5 million in bribes from Duchner to overcome legal and zoning obstacles for the Holyland project, much of which supposedly went to Zaken, allegedly at Olmert’s request.
Earlier, the prosecution questioned Olmert about his denial of receiving any funds directly from Duchner, presenting evidence that Duchner, Duchner’s daughter and one of his employees had each made donations of around NIS 5,000 to one of Olmert’s campaigns.
Olmert responded that he had not recalled these donations because they were so small, continuing by running through a list of donors, saying that he did not know any of them.
Next, the prosecution and the court pressed Olmert as to how he could not know any of the listed donors when in other contexts he has claimed that he tries to keep a personal touch, including personal telephone calls, in dealing with his donors. Rozen said, “This is not the Olmert we knew until today, this is a different man completely,” inverting a similar attack by Olmert earlier on Duchner.
Olmert said that he simply “did not remember” the donations or the donor names and attacked the document listing contributions from Duchner and those close to him as a proven forgery and irrelevant.
In a comical moment, Rozen responded, “Don’t fight about the legal issues [such as arguing about whether the document was forged], leave that to [Ro’i] Blechner [Olmert’s attorney], a great lawyer, just say what you know and what you don’t know, that will make Blechner happy.”
Olmert responded, “I also want you to be happy,” to which Rozen said, “I’ll also be happy, and I would be happy to just end the testimony,” with Olmert quickly echoing “me too.”
Rozen said that Olmert’s defense that the document was a forgery might not be relevant, since other evidence had confirmed that the content of the document was accurate (meaning that that Duchner would have forged a document about events that were true).
Later, Rozen pressed further, saying “I understand you” in terms of Olmert’s general denial of knowing about the contributions, “but Duchner was not from Jerusalem and would not be interested in donating to the mayor of Jerusalem except for getting influence over the Holyland” project.
Olmert responded that “many people contribute to the mayor of Jerusalem,” even those who are not from the capital, because “people around the country have a special connection to the city.”
The former prime minister started to continue by saying that in retrospect, “surely Duchner wanted to show he helped...,” but was caught off by Rozen who asked, “Who did he want to show” off to? Responding, Olmert said, “To Shula [Zaken], but I personally never received” or knew about the checks.
Olmert displayed a combative exchange with the prosecution and the court over whether he knew that one city official had been replaced by another for no apparent reason other than to further a request by Duchner regarding the Holyland project that the first official had held up.
The prosecution argued that Olmert knew (with the court expressing some degree of agreement that it would make sense for him to have been involved), while Olmert denied that he would have had any involvement.
He also rejected allegations by the prosecution that he told Duchner to give NIS 500,000 to his brother Yossi as a bribe, saying that he had explained that he and Yossi were not remotely close, that if he had helped him it would have been to find a legitimate job, and ridiculing the idea that his only way to have helped Yossi was through bribes from rich friends.
However, as Olmert claimed he did not know how bad Yossi’s financial situation was – in millions of shekels of debt, the prosecution tried to raise the court’s doubt about Olmert’s claim by trying to show that he had opposed Yossi running for public office (which Yossi ran for anyway and lost) because he knew that it would lead to Yossi having major financial debts.
Asked why, besides to get Olmert to help Duchner with the Holyland project, Duchner would have paid Yossi, Olmert said that if he had known what Duchner was going to do, he would have filed a complaint with the police.
Rozen also questioned Olmert about how he would not know that New York businessman Morris Talansky paid $30,000 to Yossi, when Talansky would have wanted Olmert to know to be properly appreciated. Olmert responded that Talansky made many donations to him without announcing each one.