From Auditor to Audited

For the first time in the country's history, the state comptroller has turned into the person who is being audited. Most unfortunately, retired judge Micha Lindenstrauss has rightfully earned the criticism to which he's being subjected.

For the first time in the country's history, the state comptroller has turned into the person who is being audited. Most unfortunately, retired judge Micha Lindenstrauss has rightfully earned the criticism to which he's being subjected.

When he took up his position in July 2005, Lindenstrauss raised the standard of state control and introduced important reforms and refreshing innovations to the work of his office. These included the carrying-out of audits in real time, publication of the names of those being investigated, holding up governmental actions following the receipt of complaints, and a fierce struggle against corruption and the ties between capital and government.

Nonetheless, both the way in which Lindenstrauss tried to implement these aims and his personal conduct in the job contributed to contempt for the office of state comptroller. During his term of office, there has been an increase in the publicity given to the comptrollers' investigations, sometimes even before they were completed. The method of revealing the findings of investigations even before the official publication of a report is both against the law and causes harm to the investigations themselves - both those of the state comptroller and those of the police. The comptroller's office claims that it is not the source of the leaks. Nevertheless, the fact remains that, under the predecessors of Lindenstrauss, investigations were carried out under a cloak of secrecy, and findings were made public only at the same time that an official report came out.

Moreover, the partial information that has been published about comptroller's investigations has, in certain cases, raised expectations of severe final findings, expectations that did not always bear fruit. One striking example of this was the investigation carried out by the comptroller into donations received from tycoons by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, when he participated in the primaries for the Labor Party leadership. During the investigation, there were reports in the media that the comptroller was examining suspicions of apparently criminal offenses, but in the long run, the comptroller decided - even though he strongly criticized Peres - not to recommend to the attorney general the opening of a criminal investigation against Peres.

Lindenstrauss also made a mistake in terms of the way he implemented the paragraph in the state comptroller's law that makes it mandatory for him to transfer findings to the attorney general for the latter to decide whether or not to open a criminal investigation. Thus he should have transferred his findings about the donations received by Peres to the attorney general already at the beginning of the investigation - especially since, at the beginning of the audit, the impression expressed at the comptroller's office was that the findings were criminal.

The comptroller made a similar mistake in the way in which he conducted the investigation about the purchase by Ehud Olmert of the apartment on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem. He should have transferred the findings to the attorney general as early as last summer. Instead, the comptroller carried on with his investigation, passing along his findings to the attorney general only recently and without writing a report.

Contrary to the way in which he delayed the report on the Cremieux Street apartment, the comptroller showed a great deal of zeal in publicizing in the Knesset his interim findings about the readiness of the Home Front during the Second Lebanon War. This is strange behavior. Instead of running to the Knesset, he should have sent the findings to the prime minister or the defense minister and allowed them a short time to address the defects he found. Only after that, should he have turned to the public and announced to it that the defects had been corrected.

One should not conclude from the harsh criticism of Lindenstrauss that Olmert is white as snow. Lindenstrauss was right in investigating the strong suspicions that arose against the prime minister. The problem is that the leaks about the investigations (as mentioned, the state comptroller's office denies that they came from that quarter) and the conduct of the comptroller have led to a world war between the two and have given Olmert an escape hatch. In place of being audited, Olmert has become the auditor of the auditor.

The sorry result is that, from the lofty status of the one who is supposed to wipe out corruption in the government, the comptroller has descended to being suspected himself of abusing the power of his office. This occurrence could in the future harm the public's normally serious attitude toward the findings of the state comptroller.