Agam: They avenged Hirchson exposure

National Workers Federation forced me out of job, former finance minister's whistleblower tells 'Post.'

Hirchson slipping envelope in pocket 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Hirchson slipping envelope in pocket 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A whistleblower whose anonymous letter to the state comptroller led to this week's incarceration of former finance minister Avraham Hirchson told The Jerusalem Post that she has been forced out of her job by a calculated and cruel campaign in revenge for her actions. The state's chief watchdog, the state comptroller, said it has been powerless to protect her because of a legal loophole. The whistleblower's former employer, the National Workers Federation, claims, however, that disciplinary issues were behind the woman's departure, and denies any allegations of wrongdoing. Ma'ayan Agam, a former employee of the National Workers Federation, blew the lid on the theft of approximately NIS 2 million from the union and a subsidiary organization by Hirchson during his term as chairman of the federation, when she sent a letter detailing widespread fraud at her workplace to the state comptroller, and signed it with a fictitious male name. "It was clear the whole system was corrupt, and Hirchson stood at head of it. There's no doubt he managed it," Agam said Tuesday, during an interview with the Post. "The system was managed by people who were running an exuberant lifestyle, taking frequent flights abroad, and purchasing luxury possessions, while employees were abused, mistreated, and had their salaries constantly under review," Agam said. "People were fired without due notice and humiliated. At a certain stage, I decided that this cannot go on. I employed a lawyer and sued the federation. While gathering materials, many employees gave me evidence which made for a shocking picture," Agam added. "I assembled this evidence for three months, and passed it on to the state comptroller," she said. "At first, the letter seemed strange to us. But we did not discard it. We took it seriously," Shlomo Raz, spokesman for the state comptroller, said. "It led to the Hirchson affair," he added. In June, Hirchson was found guilty by the Tel Aviv District Court of stealing large sums of money in the form of bank deposits, cash, so-called bonuses for travel expenses, vacations and medicines. With the whole of the National Workers Federation management tarred with the stain of corruption, the administration was fully replaced. But Agam maintains that a linkage between the new and old management groups exists, adding that when her identity as the whistleblower was established, steps were taken to quickly get rid of her. In 2007, Agam was fired, with her employer citing disciplinary problems. Agam appealed the sacking to the Tel Aviv Labor Court. "The court wanted proof that the sacking was because of my exposure of corruption. I didn't have that proof. It's very difficult to prove something like that," Agam said. In its ruling, the court said evidence was lacking to back up Agam's claims, adding that her role as whistleblower did not make her immune to the obligation of respecting the authority of her superiors. The court asked both sides to reach a compromise, and Agam was rehired. At that point, she says, "my life became hell. I was put in a small room. Workers stopped talking to me. All employees received new cars except me, I was given a scrap-iron. All sorts of tricks were employed to push me out. I had to wait hours for a scheduled meeting. I officially stopped working there on July 30, 2008." The State Comptroller's Office has expressed frustration over Agam's fate, and said it was unable to provide her a legal defense order that protects whistleblowers because such action cannot be taken in unions. "This is a very specific legal problem that stems from the fact that unions have their own legal status," Raz explained. "We cannot operate in this place, and we therefore cannot provide the usual defense we provide to whistleblowers. "If we could have provided the defense order, it would not have been possible to fire her. We are working in the Knesset to change the law so that we can protect citizens who have not been protected up until now," he added. Last week, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss provided Agam with a commendation for her service to the public. "We are trying to help her in many ways, by providing moral support, for example. As a whistleblower, she is entitled to all the help we can give her," he said. Hanan Shlain, a media adviser for the National Workers Federation, said in response, "Ms. Ma'ayan Agam completed her employment after a long compromise process, after which she received an enlarged compensation package in line with the law." Shlain added that the current management of the federation "has no connection to the previous management. The new management is completely devoted to full transparency." But Agam dismissed that claim, saying, "The people who abused me most and made me leave were part of the management which calls itself new." She expressed skepticism over the state comptroller's ability to defend her. "Even if I had received a defense order, the abuse would have gone on. The worst part is that if there is still corruption there, no one will dare talk about it today because the comptroller cannot defend them," she added. Today, Agam remains unemployed, and is attempting to make ends meet through her art. "It's very hard for me to find work. Employers don't like whistleblowers," she said. Agam said she would like to put the entire episode behind her, and is preparing work to submit her paintings to a major art exhibition - the Amaliya Arbel exhibition - in Tel Aviv this coming November. Still, she said, she is hurt. "I worked closely with these people. I saw them every day for hours. We were close colleagues," Agam said.