Zelekha and the PM's Pudding

The highly publicized brouhaha surrounding the State Comptroller's investigation into the prime minister's alleged involvement in the privatization of Bank Leumi (TASE: LUMI)  has birthed some intriguing spins. One is a leak to the media that a key witness against Olmert is none other than the accountant-general of the Finance Ministry, Yaron Zelekha.

That immediately birthed the son-of-spin that Zelekha was a sort of mole on behalf of Benjamin Netanyahu, who had appointed him in the first place.

In the past, Netanyahu was a regular dervish. Every time he was asked anything inconvenient, he'd counter-attack the questioner. Instead of touching the substance of the query he'd touching the substance of the questioner, a tactic that has been known to boomerang.

It is an effective tactic, but a cheap one best eschewed. The issue of Zelekha's motives may be intriguing, but it matters absolutely not at all to the central issue at stake, or to the claims he's made.

Insofar as is known, Zelekha claims that Olmert was involved in the stage of preparing the tender to sell the state's controlling interest in Leumi, which is Israel's second-biggest bank.

One of Olmert's cronies, the Australian property baron Frank Lowy, was interested in the bank. There is no dispute that Lowy had filed a bid, and that he had been in touch with the treasury's accountant-general's office about it. there is apparently also no dispute that Lowy and Olmert have some sort of friendly relationship. When asked for Olmert's response this week, the Prime Minister's Office did not deny such relations, at any rate.

Nor is there any dispute that Olmert, who served as finance minister before the actual tender and during the early stages of the tender itself, intervened in the decision-making processes involved in the tender.

He intervened in setting its date, in the mechanism by which the option price was set, and in the final agreements signed between the bank and the state, which finally freed the tender to set sail. Nor is there any dispute that at the end of the day, Lowy chose not to participate in the race.

That is the point in which the Prime Minister's Office takes pride. "Olmert's involvement in the tender process must have been highly ineffective if he couldn't manage to make his friend win," the office said in answer to Haaretz's questions about it.

Oops! Somebody over there at the Prime Minister's Office may have been indulging in a tad too much frankness. Somebody over there baldly admitted the truth of Zelekha's central claim, which was that Olmert had intervened in the tender process, even though his friend was involved in it.

The test

Over there at the Prime Minister's Office, they are evidently a bit confused. They thought the test by which the prime minister's activity is gauged, is that of the result. They thought that the fact that the prime minister didn't manage to help his friend clears him.

But the proof of the prime minister's pudding is not in the eating, it's in the intent. It's whether he intended for Lowy to eat, not whether he managed to make it happen.

The fact that the prime minister intervened in the tender process, although his friend was negotiating with the state over a bid, raises a question of conflicted interests regarding Olmert, whether or not the conflict of interest actually developed into a full-blown one.

In any case, clearly Olmert, who admits so himself, chose not to recuse himself from involvement in the Leumi sale despite the involvement of his friend, which in itself arouses doubt as to his actions, if only at the normative level.

Zelekha has managed to make himself the name of a troublemaker, which makes it easy to attack any claim he makes.

But let's not forget that this troublemaker was the first to recuse himself from involvement in privatizing Bank Discount, though as accountant-general he was supposed to manage the sale, because of his highly indirect connection with one of the contenders.

Yet the finance minister himself never thought to recuse himself from involvement in selling Bank Leumi even though a close friend was in the race.

As of printing, no response had arrived from the Prime Minister's Office.