Comptroller accuses PM of cronyism

Annual report alleges Olmert, while minister, helped funnel NIS 7.67 million to Likud activist.

olmert prostate 224 88 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert prostate 224 88
(photo credit: GPO)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in his position as industry, trade and labor minister, is alleged to have purposely helped a Likud central committee activist obtain government assistance grants for a total of NIS 7.67 million from the ministry's Investment Center, the State Comptroller's annual report on government conduct revealed Monday. According to the report, Likud activist and factory owner Rahamim Ben Shushan received grants between 2000 and 2005 which were not in line with the principles of the Law on Encouragement of Capital Investment and were against the norms of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Olmert, a member of Likud until the formation of Kadima in late 2005, served as industry, trade, and labor minister until he took the place of Ariel Sharon in January 2006. He is alleged to have interfered with the activity of the ministry's Investment Center in favor of approving investment assistance requests by Ben-Shushan. The approval of the investment grants was carried out with the help of Oved Yehezkel, the prime minister's senior adviser, and Ra'anan Dinur, who then acted as director-general of the ministry and now serves as the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office. The report alleges that two proposals, both of which violated the Law on the Encouragement of Capital Investment, were approved for the expansion of Ben Shushan's company during Olmert's tenure as industry, trade, and labor minister. Referring to internal ministry correspondences, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss wrote in the report that in 2004, Ben Shushan submitted a grant proposal for the expansion of his mushroom growing company, which was rejected on the grounds that it was not in the ministry's authority to discuss investment in the particular project, which was under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Ministry. The factory owner complained to Olmert saying that he was being discriminated against, citing a mushroom farm in Arad that had been approved by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Only three days later, Dinur, who was at the time acting director of the ministry's Investment Center, received a letter written in Yehezkel's handwriting, which read: "Urgent: Ehud has requested a personal examination [of your case] and that he be updated." In October of that year, Olmert's adviser sent out an e-mail detailing a phone message Ben Shushan left for Yehezkel: "It was agreed that he would submit a request for mushrooms - he submitted - and suddenly there is no money and they stopped his survey. He [Ben Shushan] said that, irregardless of his friendship with Ehud, as a regular citizen he is shocked by the management... Ehud gave an order... What's going on here?" Lindenstrauss wrote in the report that the fact that Ben Shushan had direct contact with employees in the ministry, in addition to citing his relationship to the minister, plus the minister's request for a "personal examination," could have been interpreted by the acting director of the Investment Center as an instruction to give preferential treatment to the entrepreneur. In response to a query by the state comptroller in March this year, Ben Shushan said that he never called Olmert a "friend." Olmert and Yehezkel said in response to the allegations of the comptroller's report that the minister's request to be updated was part of his general responsibilities as industry, trade and labor minister.