Comptroller slams Simhon, police chief

Lindenstrauss: Report's grave findings must be remedied immediately.

By DAN IZENBERG
May 12, 2010 03:44
4 minute read.
Shalom Simhon pose

Shalom Simhon pose 2 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Suspicions of corruption by the top echelons of government and the civil service as well as allegedly outright criminal acts by public officials are the most dramatic findings in the extensive and highly critical annual state comptroller’s report published Tuesday.

The report “contains very grave findings which must be remedied immediately,” State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said, during a ceremony in which he presented the report to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

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Lindenstrauss said he had referred one of the 51 investigations included in the 1,500-page report, involving at least two senior officials in the Olive Association, to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein because of suspicions that they may have been involved in criminal activity.

The state comptroller also published harsh findings in investigations involving Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, and Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen.

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Lindenstrauss accused Simhon of conflict of interest for initiating, after the bird flu epidemic a couple of years ago, a reform of the poultry industry from which he and his family stood to gain.

The reform called for moving the farmers’ chicken coops out of the residential area of the moshavim in the north and south of the country.



Because 65 percent of egg production is in northern Israel, the government gave larger grants to help northern farmers move their coops than to southern farmers. Thus, southern farmers were eligible for grants of NIS 108,000 to NIS 400,000 while northern farmers were eligible for grants ranging from NIS 270,000 to NIS 1 million.

Lindenstrauss said northern farmers received other special benefits as well under the reform.

Simhon lives in Moshav Even Menachem in northern Israel. His two brothers and his mother, as well as four cousins, own poultry farms and raise chickens for eggs. They all stood to gain by the reform, Lindenstrauss pointed out.

In response to the state comptroller’s allegation, Simhon issued a statement saying that he had declared that he was involved in a conflict of interest in January 2007.

According to Lindenstrauss, Simhon was involved in the planning of the reform throughout 2006 and should have revealed his situation much earlier. Simhon replied that he had made his declaration as soon as the planners of the reform began to consider giving government subsidies to the farmers. He added that his legal advisers had told him he was not involved in a conflict of interest.

Lindenstrauss also criticized the appointment of senior police officers by chief of police Cohen, particularly the appointment of his brother Mordechai (Motti) Cohen to two police postings carrying the rank of lieutenant commander. Cohen had held the lower rank of assistant commander for five years. Almost as soon as David Cohen was appointed police chief, he initiated a discussion with then-minister of public security Avi Dichter regarding the conflict of interests he would face in promoting his brother.

Dichter decided to appoint the deputy chief of police to deal with the new appointment of Mordechai Cohen, even though this was against regulations drawn up by the attorney-general, which declared that the police legal adviser should decide how to handle a conflict of interest situation.

Furthermore, Lindenstrauss also found that David Cohen had not kept his word to remove himself from the procedure to promote his brother and was, instead, actively involved in it. Eventually, Deputy Inspector-General Shahar Ayalon appointed Motti Cohen to two positions carrying the rank of lieutenant commander, and Dichter approved them.

Lindenstrauss also found several other instances of problematic appointments by Cohen.

The most obviously improper conduct by public officials included in the report involves senior officials in the Olive Association. According to Lindenstrauss, the director of the Olive Association, Ilan Eshel until November 2008, and Amin Hassan until his death at the end of the year, and deputy-director Gadi Horowitz, insured olive orchards in 2005 and 2006 with the Fund for Damages to Farmers Caused by Natural Events.

They allegedly did so in the name of four people who did not grow olives, did not own the land and did not even know their names had been given.

The fund awarded NIS 350,000 to them for natural disasters but none of the money ever reached the four men who had supposedly taken out the insurance. The state comptroller found that the association’s accountant had transferred the money to the accounts of Horowitz and the person in charge of maintenance, whose name was not divulged.

In 2008, the association insured the orchards in its own name even though it had no connection to them. The fund paid the association NIS 340,000 in damages for that year.

According to Lindenstrauss, “The actions of the
deputy-director and the head of maintenance raise suspicions of unethical conduct. The investigation indicates that they systematically defrauded the fund to illegally obtain money.

“The actions of the accountant… also raise suspicions that he helped carry out these exceptional activities, which border on ethical violations.”   

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