Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intervened beyond his authority in Investments Center discussions while serving as industry and trade minister, sources close to the organization revealed to TheMarker this week. In addition, he tried to promote approval for investments by the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth and intervened on behalf of farm seed company Hazera Genetics and formica company Sefen.
The Investments Center is an interministerial body that decides on requests for government support based on the capital investments promotion law.
Yedioth is owned by Arnon Mozes and Eliezer Fishman, while Hazera is owned by holding and investment company Shrem Fudim Kelner. Sefen is owned by the Kremerman family.
The Prime Minister's Office office commented, "All the prime minister's actions as industry and trade minister and in general were done to promote action, to cut bureaucracy and to act on behalf of the public. The prime minister regrets that some individuals try every Monday and Thursday to find fault. The prime minister will continue to act on behalf of the Israeli public."
At the end of 2002, Yedioth Ahronoth submitted an approval request for an investment of $20 million to build a printing press in the North, in the Ahihud industrial zone. Approval would have meant a $5 million government contribution.
The Investments Center administration wavered on approving the plan, which said it would provide 200 jobs in the North. Supporters stressed at the time that the newspaper's owners declared they did not intend to fire printing press workers in the center of the country if the press in the North was established. Opponents remarked that the paper did not meet the law's criteria for awarding grants, namely that it export at least 25 percent of its products. The sources noted that ahead of the debate on approving the investment, Olmert lobbied opponents to change their minds. In the end, Yedioth withdrew its request before the Investments Center could debate it.
The sources added that Olmert interfered beyond his authority in promoting other investments, including Hazera. In that case he lobbied the Investments Center and the Israel Lands Administration to release lands adjacent to the Hiriya dump. According to the sources, Olmert also intervened on behalf of Safan, even though members of the Investments Center opposed its proposal because they deemed it not economically feasible. The company went into receivership in late 2006. The Investment Center then referred Safan's request to the Israel Securities Authority to investigate apparent financial irregularities in the company.
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