The chairman of the board of directors of the Airports Authority on Monday denied charges made last month by the state comptroller that the level of nepotism in the authority had almost doubled over the past six years. Chairman Tzvi Shalom was addressing the Knesset State Audit Committee, which met to discuss allegations raised by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss about the number of authority employees related to other employees. During an appearance at a conference sponsored by the Netanya Academic College and the Israel Forum of Law and Society on November 11, Lindenstrauss said the number relatives had increased from 429 in January 1999 to 716 in October 2005. This despite the fact that the heads of the authority were aware of the problem and had complained about it as early as 1999. The fact that the number of relatives grew even though the heads of the authority knew about the problem "constitutes a failure of management," said committee chairman Meli Polishook-Bloch. "When there is a failure like this, someone must be held responsible." Shalom angrily rejected the figures presented by the state comptroller. He said that as early as 2000, the authority's comptroller had claimed that half the employees, some 700 workers, had family ties. He added that this was not a new problem, but had been ingrained for many years, long before he was appointed chairman of the board. He said he had spoken out against the phenomenon in harsh terms and that he had insisted that some 600-700 new employees hired when Terminal 3 was opened be taken from manpower companies to avoid the demands to hire more family members. Shalom added that the authority had fired 280 temporary workers since July, of whom 121 (43 percent) were relatives of other workers. According to authority figures from last week, 390 of the 1,292 permanent workers (30%) currently employed are related to other workers, while 134 of the 441 temporary workers not involved in security (30.38%) have relatives in the authority. "What do you expect me to do, take a machine gun and mow them down," Shalom said. Authority director-general Gabi Ophir said that future hiring would be transparent and public. "We've changed the entire procedure," he told the committee. But Pinhas Idan, head of the authority's union, charged that Lindenstrauss had launched a witch hunt against the staff. "The large majority of those workers who have relatives are employed as porters, airplane cleaners or general cleaners. In other words, we are talking about manual workers, who do not have to be employed by public tender and in the nature of things, we are talking about people who mostly live in the nearby towns of Lod and Ramle." Many of them were poor, heads of single-parent families, the children of poor families, widows and members of bereaved families, he maintained.