State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Wednesday denied allegations he was persecuting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, saying they were "lies," and rejecting claims that he was overstepping his authority.
Lindenstrauss has faced increasing criticism from some quarters for the public way in which he conducts himself and his extensive use of the media.
On November 2, a group of five prominent academics including Shlomo Avineri, Yoav Dotan, Yaffa Zilbershatz, Amnon Rubinstein and Arik Carmon, published an ad in Ha'aretz charging that he "was harming the procedures of government," and that too much information about his investigations were leaking out of his office.
He was also criticized for allegedly recommending to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz that he open a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's activities regarding a public tender for the sale of Bank Leumi. Olmert has accused Lindenstrauss of being out to get him.
The state comptroller was invited to the Knesset State Audit Committee to answer the critics. He said it was his duty according to the law to fight government corruption. "We are at the center of the battlefront for proper behavior in government and this is our job according to the law," Lindenstrauss told the MKs. "The law says the state comptroller will investigate the legality of administrative behavior, the honestyâ€¦and any other matter. Any injury to honest administration is at the heart of our work."
He also rejected criticism that he had recommended to Mazuz to order a criminal investigation into Olmert's conduct in the Bank Leumi affair even before he had finished investigating the matter himself. He said he was acting exactly in accordance with Article 14c of the State Comptroller's Law which obliges him to notify the attorney-general of any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.
Lindenstrauss also denied that he was infringing on the prerogatives of other government agencies. He said that in his letter to Mazuz on October 26, he did not recommend or instruct the attorney-general to order a police investigation into Olmert's conduct in the matter of the tender, but had just drawn Mazuz's attention to the findings.
"I don't know whether or not the findings indicate criminal activity on Olmert's part," said Lindenstrauss. "The moment certain facts came to light, we brought them to the attention of the attorney-general. We didn't ask him to investigate and we didn't tell him to investigate. We acted, I am proud to say, as we should have."
Lindenstrauss added that the findings had convinced him that Olmert was involved in a conflict of interests when he allegedly intervened to change some of the conditions in the Bank Leumi tender after becoming Acting Finance Minister under Ariel Sharon. According to the allegations, Olmert had two personal friends who considered bidding for the controlling interest in the bank, US millionaire Daniel Abraham and Australian millionaire Frank Lowy. He allegedly made changes in the tender to make it more attractive to them, and tried to convince Abraham to submit a bid.