Wednesday, April 25, 2007

State comptroller's report: Olmert corrupt

Comptroller suggests probe against PM

State comptroller presents report on Olmert's time as industry, trade and labor minister, accuses PM of working to advance friend's interests. Prime Minister's Office says in response, 'Olmert has lost all faith in the comptroller'

Aviram Zino

Latest Update: 04.25.07, 21:55 / Israel News

"The conflict of interests which Olmert was caught up in should be viewed very severely," said State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' harsh report on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's conduct during his time as industry, trade and labor minister.

Lindenstrauss presented the report on Olmert's actions to the Knesset and prime minister on Wednesday.
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The comptroller also presented the report to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, as a criminal act is suspected. Mazuz will now determine whether there is cause to order a criminal investigation against Olmert.

The case in question refers to a project that attorney Uri Messer wished to receive funds for from the ministry which Olmert headed. Messer is a former partner and close friend of Olmert.

Olmert is suspected of interfering with the process to promote his friend's interests.

The report details how Olmert acted to change conditions set by the professional bodies in the investment office in order to grant Messer benefits.

Part of the report read, "This is a factory that received from the investment office the status of an authorized factory in 1992 and as a result, funds from the state. Five years later, in 1997, the authorization was retracted since the factory was not built and its plans, as were authorized, were not carried out…

"Then, in 2001, the factory filed another request for authorization status, a request which was not even heard until 2003, when the project's manager hired attorney Uri Messer, who also represents Olmert on personal matters and headed the group backing Olmert's 1998 campaign for Jerusalem mayor. He was also his partner at a law firm."

"Despite their past partnership, and despite their personal ties and present attorney-client relationship, Mr Olmert did not keep himself from participating, actively and intensively, in making decisions, after being told by his professional crew that there were many reservations regarding this factory," the report said.

Lindenstrass stated that in the situation that was created, Olmert should have completely withdrawn himself from dealing with the request.

The comptroller also accused the aides of acting inappropriately, saying that in reality, they were Olmert's "long arm."

"They did not operate from an independent source of authority, but only acted in the name of the minister," he said.

Olmert's response

The Prime Minister's Office said in response to the report, "Olmert has lost all faith in the comptroller, therefore we had no expectations from him on this matter and were not surprised.

"The conduct of the comptroller in this matter, as it has been in other critical reports, has once again unfortunately broken all records of unprofessional behavior and bias.

"This conduct is leading to the downfall of the important and illustrious establishment he heads and this is the belief of many in the public service, his predecessors and high ranking officials in his own office, both former and current," said Olmert's office.

"It would seem that the comptroller has turned himself into an object of the ratings committee, and it is ratings and media deadlines alone that guide his actions. Whenever he fears that the public agenda is not giving him the attention he believes he deserves, he tries to fabricate drama in an attempt to seize headlines.

"This happened on the eve of the prime minister's testimony before the Winograd Committee when the comptroller urgently issued a draft of one of his reports, it happened when the comptroller believed that the Winograd report would be released in late March and hurried along to issue his own report on the conduct of the Home Front without seeking the responses of those he passed judgment on; failing to carry out the most basic of professional requirements.

"And so today, on the eve of the release of the Winograd Committee's findings, he issues this current report without having taken into account any of the various responses submitted to him on the matter, as per his request, on Memorial Day, three days ago."

Olmert's office also said that "with this sad knowledge" the prime minister's attorneys have already approached the attorney general prior to release of the comptroller's report and provided him with a detailed response to the accusations.

The response, said Olmert's office, includes documented proof that counters the charges made by the comptroller as well as proof that certain facts were maliciously twisted to fit with the comptroller's thesis.

'A Shameful report'

Later Wednesday, Olmert's attorneys sent a scathing letter to Mazuz, calling the report "shameful."

"We are frustrated that the prime minister, as a politician, is always considered a member of the 'evil' group and often times its leader. We're frustrated that the state comptroller, as the former president of a district court, is always considered a member of the 'good' group, and in his own mind its leader," wrote Olmert's attorneys of Lindenstrauss.

The attorneys, Eli Zohar and Roi Bleher, claimed that Lindenstrauss marked Olmert as a target and refused to consider any of the prime minister's explanations. Zahar and Bleher said that the manner in which Olmert promoted Messer's project was exactly the same as the way he treated any number of similar projects.

"If this wasn't the prime minister of Israel, who every day fulfills one of the most complex roles in the world, and a state comptroller, who in his desire to go down in history as the man who cleaned Israel's stables is abusing much of the public resources available to him for his own personal gain – it might have been possible to laugh at Lindenstrauss' behavior. But given their status, it's only a sad affair. Very sad," they wrote.

The attorneys asked Mazuz to review the matter and rule as quickly as possible.

Amnon Meranda and Ronny Sofer contributed to this report

First Published: 04.25.07, 17:41

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