Bureaucrat Suspected of Corruption Still Getting Salary 8 Months After Suspension

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Tamar Zandberg, chair of the Knesset’s Committee on Drug Abuse, at the Knesset.
Tamar Zandberg, chair of the Knesset’s Committee on Drug Abuse, at the Knesset. Credit: Michal Fattal

The director general of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority has been on paid leave for eight months now since being suspended due to suspicions of corruption.

But when the authority’s comptroller was asked about this during a meeting of the Knesset’s Committee on Drug Abuse on Sunday, he claimed the amount the director general is receiving is tens of thousands of shekels lower than it actually is.

The meeting, called to discuss the government’s recent decision to disband the authority, was stormy from the outset, as committee chairwoman Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) harshly criticized the agency’s generosity toward the suspended director general, Yair Geller.

Geller is one of many suspects in a major corruption case centered on the Yisrael Beiteinu party. He is suspected of bribery, conspiracy to commit a crime, fraud, breach of trust and aggravated fraud. He is suspected of bribing former Yisrael Beiteinu MK Faina Kirshenbaum on several occasions.

The Anti-Drug Authority’s chairman, Zvi Hendel, said that Geller hasn’t actually been suspended, but is merely on paid leave, with approval from the Civil Service Commission. Nobody knows how long this leave will last, but for now it is coming at the expense of Geller’s accumulated vacation and sick leave, authority officials said.

Zandberg wanted to know how many vacation days he gets each year and by what right he was being allowed to cash in his sick days. Authority officials replied that they didn’t know the answer, nor did they know what his salary was. Acting director general Eitan Gorni even claimed that revealing this information would violate Geller’s privacy.

At one point, the authority’s comptroller, Aryeh Farber, was asked for the exact salaries of several senior authority officials. “I’m at an age where I don’t remember so well,” he replied.

He then said the director general earns 28,000 shekels ($7,400) a month gross. But according to the latest report by the Finance Ministry’s wages director, from 2013 Geller’s gross monthly salary is actually 33,359 shekels, while his monthly wage costs total 51,077 shekels. This monthly salary is what he has continued to receive during his eight months on leave.

The report also showed that Farber, who couldn’t remember how much his boss earns, is being paid 38,208 shekels a month gross to keep on top of the authority’s finances; altogether, including taxes and benefits, he costs the authority 56,866 shekels a month. Thus his estimate of the director general’s salary was about 10,000 shekels a month below what he himself makes.

Commenting on the payments to Geller, Zandberg said, “A man under investigation and on leave at the public’s expense for eight months, under cover of medical authorization, whose hand is still being held out for more, is strange, to say the least.”

To that, Hendel retorted, “It’s also strange that the committee fighting the drug plague is headed by a Knesset member who is fighting for legalization.” The line won applause, prompting Zandberg to ask the guards to remove everyone who had clapped. Hendel objected, saying, “I think everyone who clapped should remain.”

Later in the discussion, Zandberg interjected, “One moment, one moment,” and Hendel imitated her. She then threw him out of the meeting, saying, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone show such contempt for a committee chair.”

Geller became the authority’s director general in 2008, even though a search committee had ranked him only second among the candidates. The top-ranked candidate, Yael Aran, petitioned the High Court of Justice against his appointment, and in April 2009 the court overturned it and ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reconsider all three of the leading candidates. Nevertheless, the court allowed Geller to stay on as acting director general.

At about the same time, responsibility for the authority was transferred from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Public Security Ministry, then headed by Yitzhak Aharonovitch of Yisrael Beiteinu. Aharonovitch decided to reappoint Geller, and a second petition to the High Court failed.

The government recently decided to shut down the Anti-Drug Authority after 27 years in operation, arguing that doing so will save 20 million shekels a year. The authority’s operations will be merged with those of two other agencies, the City Without Violence program and Metzila – Community and Crime Prevention, to form a single agency operating under the Public Security Ministry’s auspices. This decision, which took the authority completely by surprise, is expected to reduce the combined agency’s staff by about 20 percent.

According to the treasury’s 2013 report, the average gross salary at the Anti-Drug Authority is 16,293 shekels per month, for a cost of 23,722 shekels including taxes and benefits.

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