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Friday, August 31, 2007

The fix is in on Olmert's dealings with Bank Leumi

One of the many instances of corruption hanging over Prime Minister Ehud Korruption Olmert is his involvement in the auction of the government's controlling shares of Bank Leumi, the country's second largest bank. How the government came to have a controlling share in the country's second largest bank (and indeed in all its banks) is a long story that's really not relevant for purposes of understanding this post, but for those who are interested in knowing about it, you might start here.

Yesterday, Roni Bar On, who was installed by Olmert as Finance Minister after the previous Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson was forced to step down due to - you guessed it - accusations of corruption, announced that he was 'not renewing the contract' of accountant general Yaron Zelekha, who uncovered the entire affair and has taken it on as his personal project.

There are people in Israel's government who have the power to save Zelekha. So far, none of them has stepped up to the plate:
State Prosecutor Eran Shendar on Thursday announced that he would not intervene in the finance minister's decision not to extend Accountant-General Yaron Zelekha's contract for an additional term.


The accountant-general is the star witness in an ongoing police investigation against Olmert, in which the prime minister is suspected of interfering with the tender for the controlling interest in Bank Leumi in 2005, when he served as finance minister. Zelekha was behind the initial complaint to the comptroller on the matter.

The finance minister has stressed that Zelekha has not been fired, but says rather that the accountant-general's tenure is simply coming to an end, and he places "great importance on rotating personnel during terms."

Shendar explained to Zelekha why he had decided not to prevent Finance Minister Roni Bar-On from dismissing him, saying that Zelekha had served a four year term, his term was nearing its end. He added that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz had several times over the course of Zelekha's term stepped in on his behalf to prevent his dismissal, after the accountant general filed complaints against the prime minister in relation to the Bank Leumi affair.

By law, Mazuz is the official with the authority to intervene in Bar-On's decision to dismiss Zelekha. However, Mazuz has recused himself from dealing with the Bank Leumi case due to a conflict of interest (Mazuz's sister was an advisor to the treasury during the relevant time period) and thus the authority to handle matters surrounding the case fell into Shendar's hands.

"We have become convinced that there is no need to interfere with the finance minister's decision to bring before the cabinet a candidate for the post of accountant general, who would bring about the end of your term," Shendar wrote to Zelekha. "I believe that upon your completion of a four-year term, the finance ministry is justified in considering the appointment of a new accountant general."
As I have noted before, the State's Attorney's office is in the left's pocket, and it may well be that Olmert is being protected by the leftists in the State's Attorney's office because he is trying to give the country away to the 'Palestinians.' Zelekha may still appeal to the High Court of Justice himself, or more likely, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, another known enemy of Olmert's, will intervene to prevent Zelekha from being fired. Here are some Knesset reactions:
On Thursday, Labor MK Shelly Yachimovitch said that motives behind the accountant general's dismissal were not pure, and threatened to petition the High Court of Justice herself.

Lindenstrauss said Thursday that anyone who reveals government corruption will be protected by law and that this protection is an important step in curtailing corruption in the public sector.

The comptroller's office said that Zelekha's has yet to file a complaint and that if he does it will be examined immediately. Since Zelekha uncovered the Bank Leumi affair that Lindenstrauss is investigation, he has the authority to issue an order keeping Zelekha at his post.

Knesset State Control Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev said he will call upon the comptroller to prevent Zelekha's ousting and give him the protection that corruption fighters deserve by law. The committee will convene on Tuesday to discuss Zelekha's ousting.

Labor MK Ophir Pines demanded that a special Knesset meeting be convened during its recess as well, in order to discuss the Zelekha affair.

"Bar-On is being used as the prime minister's tool in order to get back at a man that did not follow the crowd, wasn't a yes-man and uncovered the prime minister's alleged transgressions," Pines said.

Arab MK Ahmed Tibi said that "ending Zelekha's tenure is a symptom of a sick system which has difficulty understanding the importance of criticism."

Likud MK Limor Livnat called on the Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to prevent Zelecha's firing, called him "the guardian of proper administration," and saying that "Zelekha turned his post into a position with some bite to it, and acted with bravery and integrity to protect the public."

Livnat called on Zelekha to fight with all the legal means at his disposal so that he can continue to serve the public.

The Movement for Quality Government turned to Mazuz and Bar-On and demanded that Zelekha not be removed.

"If one hair is to fall from Zelekha's head, this movement will not spare any of the legal means to protect him," the movement said in a released statement Thursday.

Zelekha was the economic advisor to Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a known adversary of Olmert, while Netanyahu was prime minister. Moreover, Zelekha was appointed to his current position of accountant-general by Netanyahu while he was finance minister.

Legal experts asses that that the law is on Zelekha's side. The High Court of Justice has ruled in the past that terms of law enforcement positions, such as the accountant-general post, are not limited by a specific timeframe and can only be terminated if there is a proven and legitimate cause that would stand up in court.

Since Zelekha is a highly praised official and has won awards for his performance in the past, it may be difficult to convince the court that his ousting is legitimate.

On the other hand, the Civil Service Commissioner said that ending Zelekha's term, much like the term of any civil service executive, is not equivalent to firing him.
While Zelekha may be saved, who knows whether the next whistle blower will be. Unfortunately, this type of corruption is all too typical here in Israel. It's time for the country's honest citizens to try to find a way to put a stop to it.


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