Olmert's former bureau chief starts testimony in Holyland trial

Following former PM's cross-examination, Shula Zaken says "From meeting with psychiatrist, I thought about committing suicide."

Olmert, Zaken 370 (photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
Olmert, Zaken 370
(photo credit: Pool / Olivia Fitosi)
Shula Zaken, who served as bureau chief for former prime minister Ehud Olmert, began her much-anticipated testimony in the Holyland trial on Sunday, following the end of Olmert’s cross-examination, telling the court that her state of mind when responding to police questioning bordered on suicidal.
Zaken is under indictment before the Tel Aviv District Court for receiving large bribes from main state witness Shmuel Duchner, including a lump sum of NIS 350,000, expensive earrings, furniture and other items.
Duchner, who died midtrial in March, testified that he gave Zaken the bribes at Olmert’s direction in order to win the former prime minister’s cooperation in overcoming legal and zoning obstacles for the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem.
In Zaken’s statements to police, she admitted to receiving items from Duchner but gave contradictory accounts as to why, which led Judge David Rozen to call her connection with Duchner “corrupt.”
Rozen demanded several times that Olmert explain how his denial of knowing anything about Duchner’s alleged bribing of Zaken jived with Zaken’s claims that Olmert knew or that she assumed he knew. Olmert responded many times that only Zaken could explain her contradictory statements and her relationship with Duchner.
Zaken’s direct testimony, when finally telling her side of the story, was expected to include explanations as to why she gave contradictory statements to police, some of which indicated a corrupt relationship with Duchner.
Zaken said that her statements to police needed to be viewed from the perspective of her distraught state of mind at the time.
According to Zaken, she was arrested and taken for questioning immediately after returning to Israel from a trip to the US; she endured harsh searches and a full week in prison under difficult conditions while being constantly manipulated and pressured by prison officials and police, she said.
“From meeting with the psychiatrist, I thought about committing suicide,” Zaken said, claiming that police tried to manipulate her by telling her that Olmert had essentially spit in her face and thrown her under the bus to save himself. (She used a quasi-obscene Hebrew metaphor with no exact English equivalent.) Zaken said that the misleading questions asked by police and their failure to let her confront Duchner show they were “not interested in the truth” and “only in getting Olmert.” Under these conditions, some of what she had told police, which hurt her and Olmert’s case, was inaccurate but was said under intense pressure and confusion, she claimed.
Zaken spoke at length about her relationship with Duchner, saying he always called her “Mamale” or “Bubale” and that she always called him “sweetie.” She added that they would talk sometimes late into the night and implied that they were very close and “more than work colleagues,” although she provided no details indicating an official romance or affair. (Zaken was and is married.) Zaken emphasized that she had “never asked” for anything that Duchner bought her, that she certainly never promised him anything in return regarding the Holyland project, and that he “always offered” to buy her items on his own initiative.
She clearly said that all of his allegations of bribery “are false.” Olmert, in fact, had finished his cross-examination earlier with questions about whether his having helped pay legal bills for Zaken was problematic or showed any attempt by him to “buy” her favorable testimony and refusal to cooperate with the prosecution.
He asked rhetorically, “Would I just throw her away?” implying that she was under indictment only because police were unjustifiably trying to bring him down.
Olmert added that he did not pay any of her legal bills “in this trial.”
Rozen interrogated Olmert severely about why he gave Duchner an update on discussions he had with then prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2002 relating to the Israel Salt Industries Affair and why he met with Duchner only 10 days after becoming a minister in 2003.
Olmert said he had not revealed any classified information in 2002 and that the 2003 meeting was part of a series of meetings with many businessmen upon becoming a minister.
Rozen implied that Olmert’s actions showed that he was trying to aid Duchner illegally in the Israel Salt Industries projects, which was partially separate and partially connected to the Holyland Affair, since both, although distinct from one another, involved Duchner’s bribing of public officials.