In a surprise move, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday canceled his planned participation in tomorrow's State Control Committee hearing. The committee was to discuss the state comptroller's report on appointments in the Small Business Authority during Olmert's tenure as industry and trade minister.

Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, informed the committee's chair Esterina Tratman (Yisrael Beitenu) that the prime minister would not appear because of an important security-related meeting. Tratman called the hearing and had coordinated its timing a month in advance with Olmert's office.

Tratman asked that the decision be reconsidered, saying: "It's not right from a public perspective to cancel his participation in the hearing." She also suggested that Olmert participate in just the first hour of the meeting, but to no avail.

Tratman expressed sorrow that a security meeting should be used as a fig leaf for avoiding the meeting she planned. "I respect the prime minister," she conceded, but added that she was even more distressed by the "contempt he is demonstrating in the Knesset and in the State Control Committee."

The comptroller's report revealed, among other things, that the Small Business Authority had hired the services of Likud insiders, and that Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson's partner at the time, Lilach Nehemia, had been appointed deputy director general of the authority.

State comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss announced last month that after publication of the report, additional information had been found, raising suspicions of criminal offenses. The comptroller handed over these findings to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz.