Olmert Corruption Whistle-Blower Seeking Protection

by Ezra HaLevi, INN

A growing public outcry is being voiced against the termination of Olmert-government whistle-blower Yaron Zelicha, informed that his service as Accountant General of the Finance Ministry is being ended. He is looking toward the Supreme Court and State Comptroller for help.

Finance Minister and close Olmert ally MK Roni Bar-On informed Zelicha last week that his contract would not be extended when it ends next month.

The Accountant-General went public with the information, calling his termination “illegal and non-binding” and rejected Bar-On’s authority to take such action. He claims that since he was appointed by the Cabinet, under then-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, only the Cabinet has the authority to remove him from his position.

“I will not allow a group of suspected criminals to intimidate me from my mission of guarding public funds,” Yaron Zelicha, Accountant General of the Finance Ministry, said yesterday.

“This is not the first attempt at ending my term, nor is it the first finance minister who has tried to do so,” Zelicha said, adding: “And I am sure it won’t be the last attempt either.

Zelicha is the key witness in the probe of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s role in the privatization of Bank Leumi. Olmert is suspected of helping two businessmen bid for the government shares in the tender for the bank.

Zelicha has met with police investigators at the national fraud unit’s headquarters in Bat Yam on several occasions. The Accountant General said recently that legal experts told him the affair is “the most serious case in the history of the state.”

State Prosecutor Eran Shendar is overseeing the case due to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz’s family ties; his sister Yemima, who is the Finance Ministry’s legal advisor, reportedly warned Zelicha that Olmert is “dangerous” and advised him to “be careful.”

The case originally came to light when State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss raised suspicions against the Prime Minister in a preliminary investigation last year. Lindenstrauss said after an audit of the sale, “A foundation of evidence has been built that would justify opening a criminal investigation.” Shendar decided to go ahead with a full criminal investigation against the Prime Minister after reviewing the findings of the subsequent police probe.

Who Will Protect Zelicha?
The Civil Service Commission and State Prosecutor Shendar have thus far refused to step in, saying the decision not to renew a contract is not the same as firing Zelicha, which would indeed have been problematic. Shendar wrote to Zelicha: “We have been 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. 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.”

The Movement for Quality Government and Zelicha, himself, have said they will petition the Supreme Court to fight the move.

There is also speculation that State Comptroller Lindenstrauss will step in and use his authority to protect Zelicha as a whistle-blower. The comptroller made a statement saying that he sees the protection of whistle-blowers as one of the key components in combating government corruption.

Legal experts also point out that the Supreme Court has in the past ruled that specific reasons must be offered for the ending of the tenure of officials in similar positions as that held by Zelicha. Bar-On has offered only the assertion that “a rotation in such positions” is desirable.

MKs Take Sides
Knesset Control Committee Head MK Zevulun Orlev is convening the committee Tuesday in a bid to discuss Zelicha and encourage the state comptroller to provide him with job-protection. “The message implied in the announcement of Zelicha’s firing is an attempt to harm the struggle against corruption, especially at a time when severe government corruption is being revealed and investigations are underway against the country’s leaders, one of which was initiated following disclosure by Zelicha,” Orlev said.

Coalition members such as Labor Party MKs Shelly Yechimovich and Ophir Pines-Paz attacked Bar-On. “Bar-On is being used as the prime minister’s tool to get revenge on a man that did not follow the crowd, wasn’t a yes-man and revealed the prime minister’s alleged transgressions,” Pines-Paz said. Yechimovitch and National Union MK Aryeh Eldad, in a rare moment of collaboration, sent a joint request to the state comptroller requesting that he protest Zelicha.

Opposition MK Limor Livnat (Likud) called on Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to take action to protect Zelicha, calling him “the gate-keeper of proper governance” and praised him for giving the position “teeth.”

Kadima MKs have kept a low profile on the case, declining to be interviewed or offer comments on the matter.

September 4, 2007 | Comments Off on Olmert Corruption Whistle-Blower Seeking Protection

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