Comptroller: Take punitive measures against AGREXCO's GM

AGREXCO slammed for paying for trips abroad for MKs and members of the board of directors.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss advised the board of directors of the agricultural export company Agrexco to take punitive measures against general manager Shlomo Tirosh for a series of improper acts detailed in his report. The first involved paying for a junket for two MKs in August and September 2004 which included 10 days in the US and one in Europe. Tirosh explained that he wanted the MKs to view Agrexco's markets in the US as a way of helping the agricultural sector obtain permits to import foreign workers. Lindenstrauss was not satisfied with the explanation. He said he could not find a connection between the trip and foreign workers and wondered why Agrexco had sent the MKs to the US, when most the company's markets were in Europe. Secondly, he did not understand why Tirosh paid for the MKs when the Knesset had been so critical of a similar junket for three MKs the year before (including the two who went again in 2004) and had insisted that the Knesset should pay for such trips to avoid any sign of conflict of interest. Lindenstrauss added that Tirosh should also have asked for approval from the company's board before authorizing the free trips. Tirosh also tried to get the Knesset to pass a law giving Agrexco the right to be responsible for security in the shipment of its cargo. This would have saved it some of the huge expenses it would otherwise have had to pay to a company that won the security tender in October 2004. Agrexco appealed to various MKs to attend a meeting of a Knesset committee that was to vote on the bill, including one of the MKs who had gone on the junkets. In doing so, he was guilty of creating the impression that the MK had voted for the bill because of the free trip Agrexco had given him. The comptroller also found that members of the Agrexco board had been given free trips abroad without the knowledge or approval of the entire board and without explanation as to why the trips were necessary or why company employees had not been sent instead, if the trip was related to their work. In January 2002, Agrexco paid for a trip by two board members. That August, it paid for a trip by five board members, including the chairman. Also in 2002, it paid for a trip by four people employed in companies holding shares in Agrexco. Lindenstrauss also found that board members who had flown abroad on behalf of the company were allowed to keep the accruing frequent flyer miles. This practice was contrary to regulations handed down by the head of the Government Companies Authority, obliging company officials to give them back to the company for its overall use. Although Agrexco is not exactly a government company, Lindenstrauss said it should abide by the rules and regulations of the authority. Agrexco is owned partly by the government and partly by four public companies connected to the Agriculture Ministry, and therefore does not fall entirely under the definition of a government company, but it is still is under state comptroller oversight.