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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Knesset members, legal organizations and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss came to the defense of Accountant-General Dr. Yaron Zelekha (pictured) on Thursday, following Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On's announcement that Zelekha would not continue in his post once his contract runs out.
Zelekha, whose testimony spurred a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's role in the Bank Leumi privatization tender and who is considered an adamant fighter against government corruption, has declared a battle against Bar-On's move to oust him from office.
"The attempt to put an end to my tenure has been made without authority, is illegal and is therefore not binding," Zelekha told The Jerusalem Post. "I will not allow a bunch of suspected criminals to deter me from my responsibility of guarding public funds."
However, State Attorney Eran Shendar said that he would not intervene in Zelekha's dismissal.
Responding to an appeal by Zelekha, Shendar wrote that he had "come to the conclusion that there is no reason for the Justice Ministry's intervention in the finance minister's decision to bring another candidate for the post of Finance Ministry accountant-general, bringing an end to your tenure and replacing you."
Bar-On, who is considered a close ally of Olmert, informed Zelekha at a meeting Wednesday night that his contract, which expires in October, would not be renewed.
"The minister made it clear that much importance was placed on the principle of limiting terms of office and of rotation," the Finance Ministry said in a statement. "A term of four years is reasonable and sufficient and should end on time."
The ministry declined to make any further comment.
Zelekha's attorney, Boaz Ben-Zur, told the Post that "the finance minister by law does not have the authority to make the decision over the renewal of the accountant-general's contract. The decision can only be made by the government. Even if the government were to decide not to renew the contract, it would have to provide good reasons, which are nonexistent."
Lindenstrauss, a long-time of adversary of Olmert, said Thursday that he was considering giving Zelekha the full protection of the State Comptroller's Law, which safeguards workers who testify against corruption from dismissal.
Meanwhile, legal organizations have already declared that they plan to petition the High Court of Justice on the matter.
The Movement for Quality Government warned that "if any harm befalls the accountant-general, the Movement for Quality Government will do everything legally possible to protect him."
It added that "Zelekha has conducted an outstanding campaign against mounting corruption in the country under Olmert. This is yet another attempt by Olmert to oust Dr. Zelekha, who has been at the forefront in fighting corruption and is the star witness in the investigation against Olmert over the Bank Leumi affair."
The decision not to renew Zelekha's contract was made against the background of his intensive activity against improper government practices, including actions by the prime minister, said Ben-Zur.
According to allegations, Olmert improperly influenced the procedures for the sale of the controlling interest in Bank Leumi while he was serving as finance minister.
In December, Olmert revealed that he was planning to fire Zelekha because of improper and subversive activity toward his colleagues.
Last week, Zelekha said that the Olmert government was the most corrupt in the country's history.
Meanwhile, various MKs expressed support for Zelekha on Thursday.
Knesset State Control Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) said that he would call upon the comptroller to prevent Zelekha's ousting. The committee will convene on Tuesday to discuss Zelekha's work against corruption.
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), also a committee member, said that the motives behind Zelekha's firing were not pure.
"He is a just and brave government worker," said Yacimovich. "We should be working to encourage people like him."
Yacimovich's party colleague, MK Ophir Paz-Pines, also said that Zelekha's firing was unfair.
"Bar-On is being used as the prime minister's tool in order to get back at a man who did not follow the crowd, wasn't a yes-man and uncovered the prime minister's alleged transgressions," said Paz-Pines.
Likud MK Limor Livnat praised Zelekha as "the guardian of proper administration" and called on Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to fight the ousting with all legal means possible.