PM denies cronyism charges

State Comptroller accused Olmert of making political appointments.

Olmert pissed off 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert pissed off 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has issued a statement in response to allegations by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss that he changed the rules at the Authority for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses to hire a woman with whom he had close political ties as deputy director-general when he was minister of industry, trade and labor. She, in turn, appointed at least three new project managers who were members of the Likud central committee while employing improper procedures and without giving others a fair chance at the job, according to a report from the comptroller. Olmert said in the statement: "The administration of the Ministry of Trade and Industry acted to change the regulations to implement the recommendations of an external report written by an organizational consultant... "The administration of the Ministry of Trade and Industry was not involved in the hiring process for the three project managers, apart from the letter of recommendation the director-general was asked to submit regarding Shimon Moshe. The letter related to Moshe's work on the establishment of an industrial area for the disabled in Kiryat Malachi. Sources close to Olmert downplayed the comptroller's report, saying it "barely implicated" the PM and would have no impact on him politically. "The prime minister did not make the appointments personally, so there is nothing in the report that attributes any blame to him personally," a minister close to Olmert said. "I think people are overdramatizing the document because of recent reports [about other ministers making improper appointments.] But the small business authority was formed in the most legal way possible, in the full knowledge that the comptroller was fighting political appointments." The minister said it was strange that Olmert was being accused of making illegal appointments after years of him being considered unpopular within the Likud central committee because he did not appoint enough of their people. MK Yoram Marciano (Labor) likened Olmert's actions to those of Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi, who is under indictment for allegedly making dozens of political appointments while he was environment minister, and said the prime minister deserved the "same fate." MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) said, "The prime minister's appointments are more than just corruption, they are vulgar, because they were made during a time when Hanegbi's appointments were in the limelight. Olmert ignored the public, and now the public will ignore him." MK Arye Eldad (NU-NRP) said, "After thumbing through the state comptroller's report, a picture of cross-party corruption emerges, with a majority of the country's political elite contaminated. I intend to convene the Knesset Lobby for Fighting Corruption in the Public Sector, and to summon Olmert to appear before it." Eldad heads the lobby.