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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As the state began advertising to find his successor, Accountant-General Yaron Zelekha, whose contract expires next month, vowed Tuesday he would stay in the job until he institutes his reforms against corruption in government.
"I never intended to stay on as accountant-general much longer, only until my reforms were completed. This is what I ask," said Zelekha.
He told the Knesset State Control Committee his contract was not being renewed because of his investigations of corruption by powerful officials. Zelekha is the key witness in the ongoing investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's alleged misconduct regarding the sale of the state's controlling interest in Bank Leumi.
"Olmert is publicly lying if he said he tried to oust me before the Leumi affair... Only someone who is deaf and blind would fail to realize that strange things happened surrounding the Bank Leumi affair. We tried to complain in real time, while the shares were being sold, but the sale continued and we remained alone. On November 7 one of the senior Finance Ministry officials spoke to me and told me that if I continued to complain against these moves, I would destroy myself and the department," Zelekha said. "Since February 2006, this is the fourth attempt by the prime minister to have me fired."
Zelekha testified before State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss that Olmert had intervened on behalf of two Jewish businessmen friends from abroad - Australian billionaire Frank Lowy and American Slim-Fast magnate S. Daniel Abraham - to help them win the public tender for the sale of the controlling interest in Bank Leumi when Olmert served as minister of finance.
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, however, insisted that the decision to not extend Zelekha's term had nothing to do with the prime minister.
"There have been increasing tensions in the office that are a result of his [Zelekha's] work," said Bar-On. "I did not consult with the prime minister before making this decision."
Bar-On added that in the past 20 years, there has only been one accountant-general whose term was extended past a four-year term.
MKs had called upon State Control Committee Chairman Zevulen Orlev to hold a vote of confidence in Zelekha and to request that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz stop Zelekha's dismissal.
Lindenstrauss, who opened Tuesday's panel meeting by discussing his involvement in the issue, said he would need more time to examine the circumstances surrounding the affair. Zelekha met with Lindenstrauss on Monday and asked that the comptroller issue an order to protect him.
"I suggest we give the state comptroller, and other relevant officials, more time before issuing demands," said Orlev. He added that two MKs, Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Arye Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party) had already issued similar requests to Lindenstrauss.
Finance Ministry officials who attended the meeting said they were eager to see Zelekha's position filled so that the entire department could become "sane again."
"Ministry employees need to operate in harmony, and not be in the spotlight, which interferes with their work," said ministry Director-General Yarom Ariav.
On Monday, State Attorney Eran Shendar said in a statement that Bar-On's decision was proper and that he did not intend to intervene in the matter. Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander also said there was nothing wrong with Bar-On's decision not to rehire Zelekha after this contract expired and that this was not the same as firing a civil service employee.
Zelekha's lawyer has said he intends to petition the High Court of Justice against Bar-On's decision.