Itzik cleared of suspicions she misused public funds

Former Knesset speaker relieved at comptroller’s report; Head of anti-corruption unit resigns in protest; Rivlin cancels speakers' housing perk.

Dalia Itzik  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Dalia Itzik
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Kadima MK Dalia Itzik told The Jerusalem Postthat she felt relieved by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’sdecision to clear her of wrongdoing in his report, which was publishedTuesday.
In investigations last year by Yisrael Hayomreporter Moti Gilat and Channel 2’s Amit Segal, Itzik was accused ofmisusing public funds during her term as Knesset speaker and in themonths that she served as interim president after Moshe Katsavsuspended himself.
Lindenstrauss wrote that Itzik had acted properly and had not misusedpublic funds. He suggested that the policies she had institutedregarding how to handle the Knesset’s finances were more transparentthan those of her predecessor, successor and archrival, Reuven Rivlin.
“I went through an extremely difficult time following theinvestigation, but I always knew the facts were on my side,” Itziksaid. “I am glad that the comptroller set the record straight. Thelesson is that public figures have to be treated with respect andinvestigations must be handled more carefully.”
Itzik said she did not believe the investigation would have been anobstacle to her expected run for president against Rivlin in 2014,because she believed she would be cleared of all the allegations longbefore the race.
But regarding the race for president, she said, “I am not dealing withthis right now. We have a wonderful president, and I wish him goodhealth.”
The report also cleared the former head of the Knesset administration, Avi Balashnikov.
The state comptroller investigated 17 complaints submitted by a formerKnesset employee, Aryeh Sharbaf, against Balashnikov. One of thecomplaints involved the fact that the Knesset had paid Itzik NIS 25,000to buy tiles and install a new floor in her home, which also served asan official state residence in her capacity as Knesset speaker.
Lindenstrauss concluded that the Knesset should not have paid for there-flooring, but said the regulations dealing with the expenses coveredby the Knesset for a speaker who used her own home as an official stateresidence were unclear and could easily be misinterpreted.
Furthermore, Itzik returned the money for the re-flooring after shecompleted her term in office, to “put an end to wagging tongues,” asshe put it. Lindenstrauss said the return of the money brought theaffair to an end.
The Knesset administration emphasized that it “did not wait until thereport was published, and launched an in-depth examination into eachone of the issues that were raised in the report, and already began tofix the problems as soon as they received the first draft of thereport.”

Lindenstrauss’s conclusions on the Itzik affair led to the resignationof the head of the anti-corruption unit in the State Comptroller’sOffice, Meir Gilboa, who had conducted the investigation but refused tosign the final draft of the report.
Gilboa said the facts uncovered during the investigation warranted a“more severe” report against Itzik and other senior Knesset officials.
“All the evidence that my team and I possessed regarding Itzik’sapartment indicated unequivocally different conclusions than those thatwere in the report that was published today,” he told the Post.“I wish to emphasize that this was not a matter of interpretation, buta matter of fact. Since I left the State Comptroller’s Office beforethe report was completed, I do not know if additional evidence reachedthe office that may have justified the change. In any case, I do notquestion the exclusive authority of the state comptroller to reachdecisions regarding his reports.”
Lindenstrauss’s office issued a statement in response, saying Gilboahad resigned while the investigation was still ongoing and was notprivy to the facts uncovered in its later stages.
“A substantial number of facts in the complex investigation were not known to Gilboa,” the statement said.
In the shadow of the report, Rivlin announced Tuesday evening that hewould cancel the practice of the subsidized apartment for Knessetspeakers. Rivlin reiterated the statements he had made earlier when thereport was presented, that a distinction must be enforced as much aspossible between the private apartment of a Knesset speaker and his orher official quarters, and any mixing of private property and publicproperty should be prevented. Rivlin said that the current practice,which dates from 2000, would be completely canceled.
Rivlin’s office emphasized that upon taking office, the speaker hadalready nullified the more generous 2007 practice, returning to themore limited practice from 2000. The only budget that will remainprovides for security expenses for the speaker’s house and servicesthat the speaker can purchase from the Knesset.

Dan Izenberg and Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.