Itzik cleared of suspicions she misused public funds

Former Knesset speaker relieved at comptroller’s report; Head of anti-corruption unit resigns in protest; Rivlin cancels speakers' housing perk.

May 12, 2010 07:16
3 minute read.
Dalia Itzik.

Dalia Itzik . (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )


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Kadima MK Dalia Itzik told The Jerusalem Post that she felt relieved by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’s decision to clear her of wrongdoing in his report, which was published Tuesday.

In investigations last year by Yisrael Hayom reporter Moti Gilat and Channel 2’s Amit Segal, Itzik was accused of misusing public funds during her term as Knesset speaker and in the months that she served as interim president after Moshe Katsav suspended himself.

Lindenstrauss wrote that Itzik had acted properly and had not misused public funds. He suggested that the policies she had instituted regarding how to handle the Knesset’s finances were more transparent than those of her predecessor, successor and archrival, Reuven Rivlin.

“I went through an extremely difficult time following the investigation, but I always knew the facts were on my side,” Itzik said. “I am glad that the comptroller set the record straight. The lesson is that public figures have to be treated with respect and investigations must be handled more carefully.”

Itzik said she did not believe the investigation would have been an obstacle to her expected run for president against Rivlin in 2014, because she believed she would be cleared of all the allegations long before the race.

But regarding the race for president, she said, “I am not dealing with this right now. We have a wonderful president, and I wish him good health.”

The report also cleared the former head of the Knesset administration, Avi Balashnikov.

The state comptroller investigated 17 complaints submitted by a former Knesset employee, Aryeh Sharbaf, against Balashnikov. One of the complaints involved the fact that the Knesset had paid Itzik NIS 25,000 to buy tiles and install a new floor in her home, which also served as an official state residence in her capacity as Knesset speaker.

Lindenstrauss concluded that the Knesset should not have paid for the re-flooring, but said the regulations dealing with the expenses covered by the Knesset for a speaker who used her own home as an official state residence were unclear and could easily be misinterpreted.

Furthermore, Itzik returned the money for the re-flooring after she completed her term in office, to “put an end to wagging tongues,” as she put it. Lindenstrauss said the return of the money brought the affair to an end.

The Knesset administration emphasized that it “did not wait until the report was published, and launched an in-depth examination into each one of the issues that were raised in the report, and already began to fix the problems as soon as they received the first draft of the report.”

Lindenstrauss’s conclusions on the Itzik affair led to the resignation of the head of the anti-corruption unit in the State Comptroller’s Office, Meir Gilboa, who had conducted the investigation but refused to sign the final draft of the report.

Gilboa said the facts uncovered during the investigation warranted a “more severe” report against Itzik and other senior Knesset officials.

“All the evidence that my team and I possessed regarding Itzik’s apartment indicated unequivocally different conclusions than those that were in the report that was published today,” he told the Post. “I wish to emphasize that this was not a matter of interpretation, but a matter of fact. Since I left the State Comptroller’s Office before the report was completed, I do not know if additional evidence reached the office that may have justified the change. In any case, I do not question the exclusive authority of the state comptroller to reach decisions regarding his reports.”

Lindenstrauss’s office issued a statement in response, saying Gilboa had resigned while the investigation was still ongoing and was not privy to the facts uncovered in its later stages.

“A substantial number of facts in the complex investigation were not known to Gilboa,” the statement said.

In the shadow of the report, Rivlin announced Tuesday evening that he would cancel the practice of the subsidized apartment for Knesset speakers. Rivlin reiterated the statements he had made earlier when the report was presented, that a distinction must be enforced as much as possible between the private apartment of a Knesset speaker and his or her official quarters, and any mixing of private property and public property should be prevented. Rivlin said that the current practice, which dates from 2000, would be completely canceled.

Rivlin’s office emphasized that upon taking office, the speaker had already nullified the more generous 2007 practice, returning to the more limited practice from 2000. The only budget that will remain provides for security expenses for the speaker’s house and services that the speaker can purchase from the Knesset.

Dan Izenberg and Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.

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