Zelekha seeks Lindenstrauss's help to stay

Finance Ministry accountant-general could qualify for protection under State Comptroller's Law.

yaron zelekha 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yaron zelekha 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Accountant-General Yaron Zelekha met with State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and asked him to issue a special warrant preventing his removal from office. Zelekha reportedly asked Lindenstrauss to designate him a "special government officer in charge of uncovering corruption." Lindenstrauss would have to conduct his own investigation to conclude that Zelekha should stay in office. Zelekha has been fighting a one-man, self-described war on corruption in the public service over the past four years. He has earned many supporters, but has also gained many enemies, some of whom accuse him of being megalomaniac and unreasonably rigid. His most well-known act was to testify before Lindenstrauss that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had interfered in a tender for the sale of the controlling interest in Bank Leumi on behalf of personal friends while serving as finance minister. Zelekha says he wants to keep his job for one more year to finish off the job of fighting corruption. Lindenstrauss will have to decide whether Zelekha is a "whistle-blower" who qualifies for protection under Article 45 (c) of the State Comptroller's Law. The law states that in his capacity as state ombudsman, the state comptroller "may issue any order that he sees fit and just, including a temporary order, to protect the employee's rights." It is not clear what kind of order Lindenstrauss could issue at this point since Finance Minister Bar-On has not fired Zelekha or taken away any of his prerogatives. Bar-On has said he will not renew Zelekha's contract when it expires (after four years) because he believes in the need for rotation and for bringing in new people with fresh ideas to senior positions in the ministry. However, Bar-On is a close friend of Olmert, who regards Zelekha as a personal enemy and a supporter of Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who originally appointed Zelekha to the post. Lindenstrauss refused to discuss the upcoming meeting with Zelekha. His spokesman, Shlomo Raz, said the state comptroller wanted to study the facts before deciding anything. Raz, however, confirmed, that the state comptroller was empowered to act to protect Zelekha if he believed it justified. Zelekha's lawyer, Boaz Ben-Tzur, also refused to discuss Monday's meeting. He denied a report that he had filed a petition in the High Court of Justice against Bar-On's decision but said he intended to do so in the coming days. Meanwhile, MKs Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Arye Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party) called on Lindenstrauss to treat Zelekha as he did "low-level whistle-blowers" and issue a protective order on behalf of Zelekha. "We frequently turn to you and ask you to grant similar protection to low-level employees who have discovered corruption in their place of work," they said. "As soon as these people make their disclosure they become an object of slander, personal boycott, fabrications and attempts to fire them. It appears that the accountant-general is facing the same fate." One thing that will complicate Lindenstrauss's decision is the personal rancor between him and Olmert. Lindenstrauss has conducted several probes on issues involving the prime minister that are now either under police investigation or awaiting Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's decision as to whether to open a criminal investigation. Lindenstrauss also issued a scathing report against Olmert's performance in protecting the home front during the Second Lebanon War. Should the state comptroller decide to protect Zelekha, Olmert's supporters and Zelekha's critics will accuse of him of trying to hurt the prime minister. If he does not, Zelekha's supporters could accuse him of capitulating to Olmert or of not being the anti-corruption crusader he says he is.