State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss told the Knesset on Wednesday he had begun investigating the activities of Shlomo Buhbut, the mayor of Ma'alot and chairman of the Union of Local Authorities, following complaints about his conduct.
The discussion of the allegations against Buhbut in the Knesset State Control Committee was initiated by Yisrael Beiteinu MK Fania Kirshenbaum who referred specifically to the allegations included in an expose published last month in Yediot Aharonot. She demanded that the allegations be investigated.
Lindenstrauss told the committee he had begun the investigation one month before the story was published. He said members of the Local Authority Division of the State Comptroller's Office were looking into various matters including management affairs, finances, coalition agreements, and job appointments in Ma'alot and the Union of Local Authorities. It will be ready soon, he added.
The Yediot report accused Buhbut of appointing family members to jobs connected to the Ma'alot municipality. For example, his daughter, Avital, won the concession to operate the swimming pool at the city-owned Lake Monfort recreation center. Furthermore, the illegal awarding of the concession was allegedly deliberately concealed. It was awarded to a chartered accountant with close ties to the family who handed control over to Avital a few months later.
The article also charged that Buhbut had arranged for his youngest son, Jonathan, to represent a potential investor from abroad who had dealings with the municipal council, whose approval it needed for a commercial construction project in Ma'alot. Jonathan accompanied the investor to meetings with his father in connection with the project. The investor allegedly paid the son $1,500, later increased to $2,000, to help obtain the city permit for him.
The article also accused him of creating a lavish office by joining two rooms in the offices of the Union of Local Councils at a cost of NIS 114,000 and purchasing a new car for NIS 264,000, for which the Union paid NIS 117,000 and the town of Ma'alot the other NIS 147,000. It also alleged that Buhbut pressured the Union into purchasing 300 copies of a book of his memoirs at a cost of more than NIS 24,000.
Buhbut, who attended the meeting, charged that the allegations against him were politically motivated because he had refused to appoint a member of Yisrael Beiteinu as a deputy mayor in the local council. "I asked the State Comptroller to investigate the allegations against me regarding Ma'alot," he continued. "I am an honest person. If he finds improper behavior on my part, I will give back the keys. I suggest that the Comptroller also investigate the Union of Local Authorities. You [MKs] believe what you read in the paper. Let the Comptroller and the police investigate. I will be transparent, as I have always been."
He pointed out that aside from committee chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) and Ophir Pines (Labor) all of the MKs who attended the meeting belonged to the Yisrael Beiteinu Party.
But Kirshenbaum rejected Buhbut's allegation. "I didn't write the article in Yediot Aharonot and I didn't pick my daughter to be in charge of the swimming pool," she said. Â