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State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said on Tuesday that he took a grave view of the size of the donations Shimon Peres received from three foreign contributors, to help finance his primary campaign for leadership of the Labor Party.
"I find the amount of money involved in the contributions to be unacceptable," he told The Jerusalem Post. "We are examining the matter intensively and after that, we will have to make a decision."
Lindenstrauss added that within a month, he would publish his report on election financing by the candidates in the primary campaign races. He also indicated that it would be a tough report. "We must make sure the law is upheld exactly as legislated by the Knesset," he said. "We must deal with these donations with an iron fist to make sure the law is observed."
According to figures published by the State Comptroller's Office on Sunday, Peres received donations of $100,000 each, from businessmen Haim Saban and Bruce Rappaport, and $120,000 from Daniel Abrams. The figures were provided by Peres himself.
However, a team of chartered accountants from the State Comptroller's Office is also investigating those contributions not in the reports submitted by Peres and the other candidates.
A violation of the Political Parties Law involving campaign funding, is considered an administrative rather than a criminal violation. However, there are limits to the amount of money, or other gifts, that any public official may receive. Violations of this law, the Civil Service Law (Gifts), do constitute a criminal offense. The amount of money that Peres received from his three foreign benefactors apparently far exceeds the sum that is allowed by law. According to sources in the State Comptroller's Office, Lindenstrauss will recommend for Attorney General Menahem Mazuz to launch an investigation against Peres on suspicion of accepting bribes and breach of faith.
Peres, who is in the US for meetings due on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, responded that he acted in accordance with the law.
"Shimon Peres received permission for the contributions in advance from the proper legal authority, which is Labor's comptroller (mosad lebikoret)," Peres's spokesman said. "Lindenstrauss's adviser also wrote Peres's lawyer that the contributions were received formally according to the law."
In other developments, the State Comptroller is expected to release the first of his three reports on the disengagement plan next week. On Tuesday, a subcommittee of the Knesset State Audit Committee reviewed the 30-page report to determine what information should remain classified. Two additional reports on the disengagement are due to be published in approximately three weeks. One report deals with the authorities' performance in providing housing, education and employment for the Gaza settlers. The other deals with the performance of the Prime Minister's Office and the Disengagement Authority, headed by Yonatan Bassi, at carrying out the disengagement.
Lindenstrauss said that the special unit he established at the beginning of his term in office has already completed its work on most of the seven investigations that it was conducting two months ago. Some of the investigations have led to reports released to the public, including those on nepotism in the Israel Airports Authority, and improprieties in the municipality of Beit Shemesh and the local authority of Tel Monde. The State Comptroller has also received replies from Magen David Adom regarding alleged improper appointments and will publish his opinion soon. Another examination by the State Comptroller has led to the opening of a criminal investigation against Eli Landau, former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Israel Electric Corporation. Lindenstrauss is still waiting for replies by the Bank of Israel regarding allegations of exaggerated salaries and other benefits to Bank of Israel employees. Only one of the original seven investigations remains classified at this point.
Meanwhile, the special task force on corruption has launched new investigations in the wake of complaints regarding other instances of alleged corruption in the public service.
Lindenstrauss reportedly wants to make two changes in the law to strengthen his hand both as State Comptroller and as Ombudsman. He wants to be granted the right to issue temporary injunctions when he feels that a citizen's complaint must be acted upon immediately. He also wants to be able to fine public institutions for the repeated violations pointed out by the State Comptroller in his reports.