Olmert, Lindenstrauss spar in Knesset

Prime minister slams comptroller's report on scandal; calls committee a circus.

lindenstaruss 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lindenstaruss 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The growing enmity between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss finally erupted Wednesday in the Knesset's State Control Committee, as the two faced off for the first time in over a year. The committee's discussion, over a report that alleged that Olmert intervened on behalf of a factory owned by his friend and former business partner Ori Masar, was quickly sidetracked by a series of personal insults hurled back and forth between Lindenstrauss and Olmert, who have until now only appeared at the committee separately. Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev, seated between the two adversaries, was forced to repeatedly intervene and calm them, leading the exasperated Olmert to shout, "Look at us, we have become the best show in town." "I think the State Control Committee has become a circus," Olmert said. "I have much respect for the committee, and I have very little respect for those who turn the committee into a circus." Later, an official from the Prime Minister's Office expanded on the analogy, calling the committee "more of a three-ring circus," with Olmert in one ring, Lindenstrauss in another, committee MKs in the third, and Orlev as ringmaster, struggling to keep each performance in its place. "The actual details of the report, like the theme of a circus, were kept in the background and rarely, if ever, surfaced," said the official. Work on the report began in April, when Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz recommended a criminal investigation be initiated against Olmert following his involvement in Masar's tire factory, Silicate Industries Inc. Olmert allegedly pressured Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry officials to approve the factory's opening, shortly after the factory had secured the services of Masar. Olmert said he had no connection with the entrepreneur, and his acquaintance with Masar could not prevent him from fulfilling his professional duties as then-Industry, Trade and Labor minister. He said he had "no doubt that this [Silicate] affair, like all others under investigation by the comptroller, will end in nothing and evaporate like foam on water." "I do not accept the findings of the comptroller's report and maintain that there was no conflict of interest in Masar's involvement," Olmert said. "The report bears no resemblance to reality, since in every matter connected to the factory the facts are fundamentally different than the representations in the report." Lindenstrauss responded to the criticism by stating that the report examined whether it was proper for Olmert to advance the project of his friend. "A prudent action on your part would have been to politely decline and transfer the matter to a different minister in the government, one without a personal relationship with the representative," said Lindenstrauss. "The smallest and most minimal step would have been to get up and say 'I'm dismissing myself.' You dealt with something you shouldn't have dealt with. Maybe you were trying to promote your friend, or maybe you did it for other inappropriate reasons. In any case, you shouldn't have done it." State Comptroller's Office deliberations on the matter were delayed several times in the past due to Olmert's refusal to take part. Last month, Orlev threatened to issue a subpoena against Olmert in order to insure his participation in the deliberations. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.