Olmert: I Wanted to Fire Zelekha a Year Ago, but Elections Interfered

The accountant-general wouldn't have testified against me if he'd known my intentions, quipped the PM

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert felt that the accountant-general at the Finance Ministry, Yaron Zelekha, should have been fired back when he, Olmert, was serving as finance minister, it transpires.

"A year ago I talked with the attorney general, and announced that I meant to fire the accountant-general, Yaron Zelekha, for improper and subversive activity towards his colleagues," Olmert said in a speech today before a committee of media editors.

The prime minister says that at the time, he presented attorney general Meni Mazuz with a detailed list of Zelekha's alleged misdeeds, "and the attorney general showed understanding," Olmert said.

However, it was a time of elections to Knesset and the two agreed that any such step should wait until after the polls. And after the elections, which Kadima won and placed Olmert in the prime ministerial seat, he felt that the next finance minister should be the one to deal with Zelekha.

Which is happening; just yesterday Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson usurped part of Zelekha's power, regarding the extension of credit to debt-strapped local authorities. Zelekha's position had been that first, the cities in question should learn to control their overspending, but Hirchson approved the loans.

"Since Hirchson is dealing with the matter, he should continue," Olmert said.

Olmert was asked if his intention to fire Zelekha had been behind the testimony Zelekha gave to the State Comptroller (charging that regarding Olmert had tried (in vain) to skew the privatization of Bank Leumi in favor of a friend, the Australian business baron Frank Lowy). The prime minister answered sarcastically: "Do you imagine that if he knew I wanted to fire him, he's have complained about me?"

Zelekha is meanwhile coming under heavy pressure at the ministry to resign. He had been appointed by Benjamin Netanyahu when the latter served as finance minister.

Sources near Hirchson say the only reason the finance minister hasn't fired Zelekha  is his concern that the State Comptroller would simply force him to reinstate the accountant-general, which would only serve to strengthen Zelekha's status.

The deal that Hirchson approved in Zelekha's stead is with Bank Ostar Hashilton Hamekomi, regarding NIS 200 million for local authorities in crisis. The minister and his cronies wanted the money to be paid as soon as possible, to prevent another public-sector strike over nonpayment of wages to civil servants. Zelekha for his part objected, saying a tender should be held that he calculated could save the state NIS 40 million.