Zaken deal rejection clears hurdle for Olmert political comeback

Former MKs: Only Olmert can reunite Center-Left; former PM says will decide political future when cases against him are closed.

Former prime minister Olmert and his ex-bureau chief Shula Zaken (photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former prime minister Olmert and his ex-bureau chief Shula Zaken
Former MKs expressed hope over the weekend that former prime minister Ehud Olmert might make a political comeback after his former bureau chief apparently failed to incriminate him in the Holyland trial.
Olmert told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that he would decide his political future when the cases against him are closed. Besides the Holyland trial, there are expected to be appeals in the Talansky and Rishon Tours cases.
Political sources close to Olmert said they had no doubt he would return to politics and challenge Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after all his legal problems were behind him.
They said Olmert felt personally wronged by the charges that ended his premiership and was determined to come back in order to get another chance to be prime minister.
“In a democratic country, the courts decide innocence and guilt, not the press or the public,” former Kadima MK Shai Hermesh said. “If the court rules Olmert innocent of all the charges, I believe the public, which wants a strong alternative to Netanyahu, will remember his leadership.
“He is the only possible candidate who can unite the Center- Left, a camp that unfortunately ran with four heads in the last election.”
If Olmert did come back, chances are he would join former top security officials such as former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, former Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin and other well-known public figures in a party that could join forces with Kadima and other factions on the Center- Left.
“Olmert is the only candidate with the caliber and the ability to defeat Netanyahu,” former Kadima MK Yuval Zellner said. “I would be very happy if he came back. He is the right person to lead Israel and end the paralysis in the country.”
Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich attacked Olmert on Facebook, saying he only cares about money and power, and calling him completely corrupt.
The verdict in the Holyland trial is set for March 31.
Olmert’s first major address after the verdict will be at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on April 6.
The Justice Ministry says it will not be cutting a plea bargain deal with Shula Zaken to turn state’s witness against her former boss Olmert in the Holyland trial.
Following Zaken’s testimony and providing new evidence to police on Wednesday, the Justice Ministry said on Thursday that it had ceased negotiations with her lawyers.
While the ministry did not fully explain the decision, the implication was that Zaken lacked documentary evidence to corroborate her new testimony, and that the late stage of the case also made it not worth cutting a deal with her.
Amir Dan, Olmert’s spokesman, immediately responded by slamming Zaken and the state as having conducted a sideshow to improperly influence the court’s verdict in the case.
He said the end to talks between the state and Zaken exposed the true goal of the talks and proved once again that there was no real evidence against the former prime minister.
The Jerusalem Post
had learned that the potential deal was up in the air despite Zaken’s accepting the prosecutions’ condition that she serve reduced jail time of around a year, as opposed to getting complete immunity.
In that context, the prosecution was only going to agree to a plea bargain of reduced jail time if Zaken added something substantial to the mix that would significantly help it in the Holyland and Jerusalem corruption trials.
The Holyland trial is one of the largest bribery and fraud schemes ever uncovered in the country, with Olmert and Zaken being two of 16 prominent defendants accused of giving or receiving bribes to smooth over legal and zoning obstacles to the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem.
Zaken had remained staunchly loyal to Olmert for over five years of trials, until recently, when his and his lawyer’s statements against her led to her change of heart and possible cooperation with the state.
But it appears that the significant procedural and substantive challenges to the prosecution, which was trying to use anything new that Zaken had to offer, were too great – the Jerusalem trial ended with a mostly not guilty verdict for Olmert in July 2012 and the Holyland trial is essentially over.