Interior Minister Eli Yishai has asked the state to reimburse him NIS 326,000 for preparing his reply to the state comptroller's report accusing him of bearing much of the responsibility for the worst forest fire in Israel's history - 16 times the maximum amount set by the treasury for reimbursement of this kind.
The comptroller said that while Yishai had acted to obtain more funding for the fire department, which fell under his jurisdiction, he failed to monitor whether it was ready to combat a fire as large as the one that swept through Carmel Forest in 2010. Forty-four people were killed in the Carmel fire.
The state comptroller's report places much of the blame for the event on Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who also asked for legal costs to be reimbursed, only for a considerably lower sum: about NIS 60,000.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who was also implicated in the report, requested reimbursement of legal costs without noting the sum, saying "the law office is not asking for compensation beyond the sum set by the committee."
A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry said that it will announce its response one it decides whether to grant Yishai's request.
The Interior Ministry did not respond to questions on this matter by press time.
Yishai's request for reimbursement indicates that after the State Comptroller's Office released the initial draft of the report, the ministry hired the law firm Eshbol Borovsky, which charged Yishai NIS 98,100 plus value-added tax for 240 hours of work.
After the final draft of the report came out, the law office of Gideon Fisher was added to the team. The legal fees this time came to NIS 228,000 plus VAT. The interior minister's combined legal fees in the matter thus came to NIS 326,000, not including VAT.
In September, three months after the final version of the state comptroller's report was published, the Interior Ministry applied in Yishai's name to Justice Ministry director general Guy Rotkopf, who heads a committee that handles the legal costs of state officials and civil servants.
In its request, the Interior Ministry noted that it had to hire the services of two law firms because the state comptroller prepared two drafts of his report.
"In light of the complexity of the process and the multiplicity of claims raised in the report regarding the interior minister's conduct, and in light of the great amount of work required, which could not have been predicted and which became apparent during the process, the requester was forced to expand the scope of his representation," the request read.
Government officials replying to comptroller's reports may have their legal fees reimbursed up to NIS 400 per hour, for a total of no more than NIS 10,000. In special cases that ceiling may be raised but cannot exceed NIS 20,000.