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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On on Tuesday moved forward with plans to oust Accountant-General Yaron Zelekha from his post, announcing the candidacy of Shouky Oren, general manager of Bank Leumi Switzerland, as his successor.
"Oren has much experience in the private sector and is acquainted with the banking sector in Israel and abroad," the Finance Ministry said in a statement.
Bar-On said Oren's candidacy will be submitted to the cabinet for approval and is subject to approval of the appointments committee.
For the past five years, Oren, who served as deputy accountant-general in the early 1990s, held the position of general manager of Bank Leumi Switzerland. From 1994-2002, he was the number two at Investec Bank Israel. Oren holds an MBA and BA in Economics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Zelekha, who has made himself many enemies in his mission to root out corruption and correct improper financial norms across government, has been fighting last month's decision by Bar-On not to renew his contract, which expires in October.
"In principle, the government has the authority to approve the termination of the tenure of the accountant general. But even if the government would take the decision to approve a successor, it must provide a legitimate cause that would stand up in court, other than external reasons," Boaz Ben- Zur, the attorney representing Zelekha, told The Jerusalem Post. "In the case of Zelekha, there is no legitimate cause as he fulfilled the duties of his position in safeguarding public funds perfectly well. The cause is reasoned against the background of his intensive activity against improper government practices, including actions by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert."
Ben-Zur added that Zelekha intended to remain in his position and to petition the High Court of Justice against Bar-On's decision.
"This is yet another attempt by Bar-On, who is a close ally to Olmert, to oust Zelekha, who has been at the forefront of vigorously fighting corruption and who is the star witness in the investigation against Olmert over the Bank Leumi affair investigated by the police," said Daniel Kayros legal adviser at the Movement for Quality Government.
Following Bar-On's announcement, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss called upon the finance minister to put Zelekha's status on hold until he makes a decision over whether to issue an order to protect Zelekha as Zelekha requested last month. The state comptroller is empowered to do so in cases where an employee has been harmed because he has complained that his employer or a fellow employee was guilty of corruption. The comptroller has the authority to prevent the firing of or to reinstate a state employee who is fired by giving him protection as a "whistle-blower" against government corruption.
Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.