State Comptroller Joseph Shapira.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The State Comptroller’s office will be investigating possible corruption in the expected sale of land by the pension fund of the Jewish Agency, which would lead to the eviction of hundreds of Ethiopian immigrant families who have been living there for years, following a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee.
Part of the suspicions in the case revolve around missing transcripts of Israel Lands Authority meetings on the issue, which various groups have demanded, and about which even State Comptroller Joseph Shapira angrily said he “did not get them.”
Until the Knesset and the comptroller’s office got involved, the plan had been for the pension fund to sell the land to develop it for regular residential housing and to find alternative housing for the Ethiopian immigrants currently living in the absorption building.
According to Jewish Agency and ILA officials, the land has been privately owned for a long time and the rights to sell the land, including knocking down the absorption building to build standard residential housing, date back to 2005.
Olga Dadon of the Absorption Ministry referred to the plight of the Ethiopian immigrants and said “nobody will be thrown out on the street.”
But those criticizing the sale say the building was purchased with donations targeted specifically for absorbing immigrants and that there was no public debate about that issue or about the future of the Ethiopian immigrants.
A further twist about the changing of legal rights in 2005 was that the approval was made by then infrastructure minister Ehud Olmert, who has come under fire with convictions for bribery and corruption in various acts during the same time period.
Mevaseret Zion Absorption Committee member Jeremy Saltan said, “I welcome the decision of the comptroller. We need to return the trust in our country and our institutions by finding out the truth of what really happened behind the scenes. If indeed it was Olmert who signed off on the land transfer as stated in the committee then I wasn’t far off by suggesting this might be Holyland 2.”
Jewish Agency and ILA officials were under fire throughout the Knesset hearing.
Committee chairwoman Karin Elharar said, “There is a lack of transparency and many questions surrounding the process,” and she told Shapira to investigate the process of transferring public land to a private entity and to “uncover the ILA transcripts” since “there have not been satisfying answers” on where they are.
An NGO representative attending the hearing highlighted the missing transcripts of the agency’s meetings regarding changing the character of the land.
He said the NGO had requested the transcripts only to be told that no transcripts existed.
However, at the Knesset hearing, ILA official Ruth Afriyet said the transcripts were given to the comptroller’s office.
This disturbed the NGO representative, who said the ILA should at least be honest and say the transcripts exist and explain why they cannot be provided to him.
Even worse for the ILA and the agency, Shapira denied having received the transcripts.
When Afriyet said she had sent them to Yossi Sivan of his office, Sivan jumped in and said he had received disks, but the disks were missing the transcripts, which Afriyet was saying had been turned over.
Afriyet then said they were not trying to hide anything and that if anything was missing, the comptroller’s office should notify her and she would send whatever was not yet sent.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.