Comptroller weighs probe of Barak's wife's business

Spokesman:'Investigation is a result of watchdog organization's complaint, not media reports.'

barak and wife 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
barak and wife 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A preliminary investigation by the State Comptroller into a business venture launched a few months ago by Defense Minister Ehud Barak's wife, Nili Priel, came as the result of a watchdog organization's complaint rather than media reports which broke the story late last week, the State Comptroller's spokesman said Sunday. The organization complained that the venture was based on the personal ties between Barak and Priel. Her company, called Taurus, offered services to companies interested in investing in Israel. In her promotion material, Priel wrote that she knew most of the 800-900 decision-makers in the economic and political world in Israel and could put her clients into contact with them. In order to sign on, the potential investors had to pay $30,000 per year. Furthermore, Priel wrote that if the contacts led to a deal, she would receive a percentage of the profits from the business that arose out of it. News of the establishment of the company led to allegations that Priel was exploiting her connection to Barak to make money. Some observers have charged that the company was meant to serve as a front for political donations to Barak and the Labor Party in the upcoming elections. When Barak was asked by reporters about it, he said that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had given his approval. In 2003, the government drafted guidelines for ministers and deputy ministers instructing them to obtain permission from the State Comptroller for any action which might be construed as involving a conflict of interest. According to Lindenstrauss's spokesman, Barak informed the State Comptroller in September 2007 "in general terms" that his wife was considering opening a business and asked for his okay. In December, the State Comptroller's Office replied that it could not give its approval to such a vague application. It asked Barak to reapply when he could describe exactly what Priel's company would do. Although there was apparently some communication between Barak and the State Comptroller's Office in the ensuing months, "in effect," Barak did not reapply for approval from Lindenstrauss, the State Comptroller's spokesman told The Jerusalem Post. The spokesman added that the preliminary examination by the State Comptroller's Office into the affair would not take too long. On the basis of the report, Lindenstrauss will decide whether to launch a full-fledged investigation into the affair. In the meantime, Priel has closed Taurus at her husband's request.