Cleared for publication: A material witness order was issued in the Police National Fraud Unit's investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday cleared for publication that fact that the order was issued in order to depose a foreign national, stating that "this order does not indicate that any of those questioned in the matter - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mrs. Shula Zaken - have been indicted… The order is given in view of the circumstances at hand."
In this exceptional legal procedure, evidence is collected from a person who might not be able to testify in a future trial, in this case since this person seeks to return to his country.
The court stands to hold a hearing on the material witness petition later Tuesday. The decision on whether or not to apply the comprehensive gag order issued on the probe to the current proceeding will be made during the hearing itself.
The decision was made by a three-judge panel which included District Court Chief Justice Mosia Arad and the honorable Zvi Silbertal and Moshe Sobel.
Deposing a witness prior to trial is similar to having one testify before the court, with the witness being questioned by the prosecution and then cross-examined by the defense.
The fact that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz chose to petition for a pre-trial deposition, especially in this kind of a high-profile case indicates that the State believes it has a strong case on which to base an indictment
Olmert's attorney, Eli Zohar, in court (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court denied Tuesday the petition to have the gag ordered placed on the new investigation lifted. According to Justice Daniel Beeri, the gag order was left in place in order to "avoid impairing an ongoing investigation."
The police's representative, Superintendent Iris Barak, said during the court hearing that making the affair public on the eve of Memorial Day – would harm the public interest. "I don’t believe that anyone would want to hear such a thing just before Memorial Day," she said.
Attorney Mibi Mozer, who represented Haaretz newspaper in the court hearing, asked the judges to lift the gag order in order for the public to known whether the prime minister was accused of fraud or of aiding the enemy. He said he believed the State would only benefit from a removal of the gag order.
The former Prime Minister's Office bureau chief, Shula Zaken, was called in for a third interrogation by the National Fraud Unit on Tuesday regarding her alleged involvement in the latest investigation launched against Olmert. In her previous interrogations, she asserted her right to remain silent.
Zaken, Olmert's right hand for years, has been questioned several times over the past few days and has been put under house arrest until Friday.
'Significant development' expected
Earlier Tuesday it was reported that the State Prosecutor's Office, the police and the Prime Minister's Office were watchfully awaiting "a significant development" in the new Olmert affair.
A Justice Ministry official said two days ago, "We will continue to closely monitor the developments in a bid to allow the delivery of additional information to the public, as soon as possible, without harming the investigation."
The police vowed, however, to contest any move to end the media blackout. Maintaining a media blackout, the police said, is imperative.
Sources within the ranks of law enforcement have said a significant development in the case is imminent - one that may yet determine whether the affair is as grave as some in the political and judicial arenas have hinted, or whether, as Olmert has studiously reiterated, the surreptitious brouhaha will be exposed as incapable of holding any water. The significant development is related to a certain procedure tied to the investigation.
Olmert was questioned under advisement for over an hour on Friday. At present time the only information cleared for publication merely confirms the new allegations concern events that took place prior to his ascension to the premiership.
While Olmert has tried to keep up appearances of "business as usual," he has cancelled several scheduled media appearances ahead of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations.
Meanwhile, the prime minister's associates have launched a "holding-defense battle" on the public opinion, stating that the timing of the affair's publication was not coincidental.
"One must notice the identity of the people involved in the affair, whose opinions are different than those of the prime minister," an aide to Olmert said.
Another source close to the prime minister said, "The situation is not simple, and we don’t know what will happen. We are not allowed to talk, and the gag order prevents the prime minister from defending himself and addressing what really happened."
Efrat Weiss, Aviram Zino and Vered Luvitch contributed to this report