Treasury blamed for deadlock over insurance for Witness Protection workers

Treasury blamed for dead

The Treasury has been blamed for failing to come to an agreement with the Witness Protection Authority over insurance funds for its employees, who will require generous life insurance plans due to their hazardous jobs, a Knesset State Control Committee on organized crime heard on Tuesday. The Witness Protection Authority was supposed to become operational in July, but will only become active in January 2010, its head, Aryeh Livneh, told the committee, adding that "the fact that the program's initial budget was only approved on April 30, 2009" was responsible for the delay. Livneh warned that "at this pace, when we start working, the issue [of insurance for employees] will remain unresolved. "We all pray that nothing bad happens to any of us. But we want to be able to look recruits in the eye and promise them that [if something does happen] we will be able to look after their families," Livneh said. He added that a final agreement on salaries for employees have not yet been finalized either with Treasury officials. Livneh's comments provoked a furious response from Knesset members, and the committee's chairman, MK Yael Hasson (Kadima) gave the Treasury three months to finalize all outstanding disagreements with the Witness Protection Authority. "That is plenty of time to resolve these issues. If they are not resolved by then, we will view it as a failure to act on the State Comptroller's Report," Hasson said. "The Treasury is throwing a spanner in the works of a big part of the fight against organized crime," Committee member MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) told the Jerusalem Post. "They are looking at small details and ignoring the big picture," he added. In a statement emailed to The Jerusalem Post, the Treasury said it "is not delaying the Authority's activities and supports all procedures that are relevant to it," adding that "the issue of insurance for Authority employees has, in recent days, been the subject of intensive talks, and we believe they will be completed soon." The Treasury added that it had already transferred "NIS 7.5 million to the Authority in 2009 to create 27 positions, and a sum total of NIS 30 million will be transferred in 2010, in accordance to agreements. "Salaries for Authority security guards, senior members and the Authority's organizational structure have been agreed upon," the Treasury added. During his appearance before the committee, Livneh said 28 new staff had been recruited so far, adding that the Authority would be able to process three to four witnesses a year at a cost of NIS four million per witness. Meanwhile, the Israel Tax Authority Head Yehuda Nasradishi said a new task force of accountants, economists and other legal experts was being assembled to assist police in the war against organized crime. "Our presence was lacking in this field," Nasradishi conceded, referring to the previous refusal by the Tax Authority to take part in anti-mob work due to a dispute over hazard pay, which has now been resolved. "I am planning to compensate us all for that in the war against crime in 2010," he added. Avi Arditi, Deputy Director-General of the Tax Authority, said the new task force would "work hand in hand with police and state prosecutors" and share information in order to jointly shut down mob-related businesses and assets, and prosecute gangsters for tax evasion and other economic transgressions. "In the coming days, a full investigation team will be activated by the Value Added Tax department. The Income Tax Department is currently recruiting new staff and putting them through a training course," Arditi said. The Knesset committee meeting was attended by the Israel Police's Head of Investigations Branch, Cmdr. Yoav Saglovitch, who said that a cooperative Tax Authority would greatly benefit the war on organized crime in the coming years. In the aftermath of the multiple homicide of the Oshrenko family in Rishon Lezion on Saturday, which has been linked by some observers to foreign organized crime, Saglovitch was asked whether mob elements had infiltrated the country from abroad. "To the best of my professional knowledge, such an infiltration has not occurred," he said. "We are a small country and we are not that attractive [to foreign mobsters]," he added.