(photo credit: GPO)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus said on Wednesday he was prepared to look into all instances in which MKs have taken trips abroad funded by private groups without receiving permission from the Knesset Ethics Committee or the Knesset Speaker.
Lindenstraus also said the special department he had established to examine real time allegations of corruption among public servants, was currently investigating seven separate affairs in which corruption was suspected. Lindenstraus refused to divulge who were involved in the cases, but said that some of the affairs had already been reported in the media. Each of the cases was unrelated to the others and the reports would be released one at a time and reasonably soon, he added.
Lindenstraus, who appeared before the Knesset Finance Committee on Wednesday, told reporters afterwards that he had come across the information regarding a 2004 US trip by Likud MKs Ruhama Avraham and Eli Aflalo during a routine investigation of Agrexco - the state-subsidized exporter of agricultural produce - for the State Comptroller's annual report.
Lindenstraus discovered that Agrexco had paid for the two MKs' four-day trip, including transportation and lodging.
He informed Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin of his findings and asked him for his response. Lindenstraus' spokesperson, Shlomit Lavi, said the information regarding the trips had not been divulged by the State Comptroller's office.
According to reports, Avraham and Aflalo, who were members of the Knesset Finance Committee, had asked the Ethics Committee for permission to accept an invitation by Agrexco to visit Europe in 2003. The committee turned down their request. They then asked Rivlin for permission. He agreed, but made it clear his approval was only for the one trip, and only provided the MKs paid for it. The following year, when Agrexco invited the two MKs to the US, they did not inform or ask permission of either the Ethics Committee or of Rivlin.
"All that I have done so far is to present the facts of the MKs' trip to the Knesset Speaker and ask him for his comments and recommendations and his opinion in his capacity as Knesset Speaker," said Lindenstraus.
He said he would investigate other incidents of MKs taking trips abroad in violation of the Knesset's code of ethical behavior if these are brought to his attention.
Yediot Aharonot reported on Wednesday that four years ago, Yisrael Katz, now Minister of Agriculture, was flown to Europe at Agrexco's expense. Katz told Israel Radio he had done so in accordance with Knesset regulations that applied at the time.
Meanwhile, the online news website "News First Class" reported on Wednesday that one of the seven affairs that Lindenstraus is investigating involves Education Minister Limor Livnat and her husband, Elichai Henig. Reporter Yoav Yitzhak wrote that the State Comptroller is investigating suspicions that Henig made private contracts through a public company with local councils and other public bodies to supply them with internet information on all Israeli soldiers killed in war.