Behind the Lines: Out of comptroll

The new style of the Comptroller's Office has made remaining impartial much more difficult than usual.

borovsky 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
borovsky 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
'Of course [former commander Yaakov] Borovsky promised politicians favors in return for their support," the director of a large non-governmental organization (with high-level contacts in the government and legal establishment) told me this week. "He also asked us for help. But there was nothing strange about that. All the contenders for police inspector-general were doing the same thing. Why should he have been any different?" But the results of the investigation into whether or not Borovsky offered Likud politicians a deal (that if appointed, he would replace the team investigating charges of corruption against prime minister Ariel Sharon and his sons) are not that important. If he is found guilty, it will only prove what much of the public already suspects about law enforcement in this country: that investigations are more about personal ambition and political pressure than they are about the pursuit of truth and justice. The real question is how the scandal surrounding Borovsky will affect his present boss, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. You don't have to be a political analyst to understand why the story is only emerging now, two and a half years after Borovsky was passed over in favor of Moshe Karadi, who was not even seen as a candidate for top cop. Since the rumors surrounding Ehud Olmert's real estate dealings surfaced nine months ago, a war had been raging between Lindenstrauss and the prime minister. Lindenstrauss has repeatedly angered Olmert by not only being eager to investigate each new allegation of wrongdoing, but by notifying the press in the process. The two also managed to clash openly when Lindenstrauss refused Olmert's proposal to be in charge of investigating the response of civil authorities to the bombardment of the North during this summer's war, announcing instead that his own office would conduct an independent investigation into all aspects of the war. Borovsky is Lindenstrauss's special adviser on corruption in high places - in effect, the comptroller's right-hand man in the campaign to clean up public life in Israel. Borovsky countered the story of his alleged corruption by saying, "I never would have been accused if I weren't leading these probes into the prime minister's affairs." That the reporter who first revealed the story was Channel 1's diplomatic correspondent, Ayala Hasson, is indeed indicative. Hasson has enjoyed a particularly good relationship with the Prime Minister's Office since Sharon's tenure. She even admitted as much, when she said on the radio: "Of course, every source has his own interest in passing on information [to the media], but it's our job to follow these leads, no matter what." Whether or not Borovsky's lobbying for a desired job turns out to have been illegal, the investigation does pose a problem for Lindenstrauss. In more than three decades as a judge - from traffic court and beyond - he had ample opportunity to observe police work up close. As president of the Haifa District Court, he should have been closely acquainted with Northern District commander Borovsky and his old-school methods. Even if he wasn't aware of Borovsky's allegedly illegal political machinations, Lindenstrauss should have realized that by appointing him to the hitherto non-existent post of "corruption czar," he might be erecting a "glass house" around the comptroller's office - one easily susceptible to the throwing of stones. COMPARED TO leak-prone organizations such as the police, the State Comptroller's Office has always been a relatively impenetrable institution. Ironically, over the years, its refusal to comment on ongoing probes has served many journalists well. This is because the comptroller is required to pass preliminary reports on to the relevant ministries for comment. Once in the hands of these ministries, the reports were often leaked, allowing lucky reporters to publish the information and pass it off as the result of investigative journalism. Lindenstrauss, however, isn't prepared to relinquish the credit for the publication of such information. Upon assuming his post in July 2005, he made it clear that he saw the media as his partner in his "no compromise, no holds barred" battle against corruption. Though Lindenstrauss himself rarely gives interviews, Borovsky has talked to the press on a regular basis, always managing to drop interesting hints. LINDENSTRAUSS'S FOSTERING of a good relationship with the media and his deepening conflict with Olmert have created a unique dilemma for some reporters, who were not used to regarding the comptroller as a combatant. Journalists should be able to utilize leaks to maximum effect, but in this case, quite a few found themselves taking sides, not always out of choice. Journalism is all about biting the hand that feeds you and then coming back for more, but the new style of the Comptroller's Office has made remaining impartial much more difficult than usual. There have always been some journalists disposed toward the government and others with a confrontational agenda. More balanced reporters, however, are now having trouble assessing the validity of the mounting allegations of corruption against Olmert and other senior politicians, while accepting that there are considerable merits to the counter-accusation against Lindenstrauss: that he has been exhibiting no small degree of megalomania and overstepping his mandate. Last week's "professors' letter" has only further muddied the waters. Five leading experts on Israeli law and political science signed an open letter headlined: "Judge Micha Lindenstrauss is harming the order of government in Israel." The professors, all veteran academics with impeccable establishment credentials, castigated Lindenstrauss for the leaks from his office and for exceeding his mandate by intruding in criminal investigations. For one of the signatories, Herzliya Inter-Disciplinary Center president Amnon Rubinstein, this is only another in a series of blistering attacks against members of the legal establishment. Three months ago, he recommended that former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Meir Shamgar, be reappointed to his post - instead of giving it to Dorit Beinish - to enable a comprehensive reform of the judiciary and the restoration of its public stature. This week, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, he called for an urgent overhaul of the Attorney-General's Office, in the wake of the growing scandal surrounding the Haim Ramon sexual harassment case. Such attacks haven't seemed to cause Lindenstrauss to swerve in his crusade. But then, he was never one to accept criticism. Four years ago, he spearheaded the judges' stiff opposition to the Bar Association's annual questionnaire that assesses their performance on the bench. He advocated support for the controversial decision on the judges' part to boycott all Bar Association events. Still, he can't be oblivious to what's been happening around him, particularly during the past two weeks. First there was the Borovsky scandal. Then the "professors' letter." Finally, on Monday, there was his report on campaign financing. Someone leaked in advance to the press that the report would cause serious damage to Vice Premier Shimon Peres, accused of receiving $320,000 in illegal donations from three foreign businessmen. But the hype was seen as unjustified when it transpired that the comptroller couldn't accuse Peres of anything worse than acting against the norm by using a loophole in the current laws. As serious as this may be, it wasn't illegal and it didn't live up to the high expectations raised by Lindenstrauss's circle. Media-management, it turns out, is trickier than it seems. Olmert, on the other hand, is a master of the craft. In a friendly interview with Channel 2's Yair Lapid, he deftly evaded questions on his feelings toward Lindenstrauss, while obliquely referring to the "professors' letter." FOR MONTHS it seemed as though the ugly atmosphere surrounding the mismanagement of the war and incessant allegations of corruption would bring the government down sooner than later. But the squabbling between Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz over senior IDF appointments; Labor Party infighting over Avigdor Lieberman's joining the government; and now the comptroller controversy are causing public attention to move in other, more pressing directions. The tug-of-war between Olmert and Lindenstrauss might make many Israelis wish a pox on both of their houses, but that won't serve to clean the atmosphere. Whether or not the allegations against the prime minister are the result of an orchestrated smear campaign - as Olmert claimed this week - someone has to get to the bottom of the mess. But all participants in it - the courts, the attorney general, the state comptroller, the police and the media - seem to be doing everything in their power to lose credibility.