PM, Watchdog Set to Clash in Knesset Panel

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss are expected to lock horns again next week over the comptroller's report on the Industry and Trade Ministry's investment center during Olmert's term as minister there.

The two are scheduled to appear before the Knesset State Control Committee next Wednesday for a debate on the report, before the echoes of their clash on the comptroller's report this week - on the home front's readiness during last summer's war - fade away.

The debate on the investment center report, which had been scheduled for two weeks ago, was canceled at the last moment after MK Zevulun Orlev, the committee's chair, felt ill and was rushed to hospital, where he underwent heart catheterization.

Olmert did not show up at the committee's session on the report some six weeks ago, and Orlev threatened to subpoena him to appear. Olmert told Orlev minutes after the meeting started that he would attend the next meeting, due at the beginning of July, but that was the morning Orlev was hospitalized, and the session was canceled.

After his recovery Orlev insisted that Olmert attend the committee's last session before the Knesset begins its summer recess next week.

The report probed the assistance given by the investment center to Dimona Silica Industries Ltd. (DSI) contrary to the decision of the ministry's professional staff.

Lindenstrauss sent a harsh report on this matter to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz two months ago, advising him to open a criminal investigation against Olmert.

Olmert's appearance at the Control Committee session next week will be the first since becoming prime minister. In mid-October 2006 the committee, then headed by MK Esterina Tartman (Yisrael Beiteinu) summoned Olmert for a debate on the comptroller's findings vis-a-vis political appointments that he had made while industry and trade minister in the Small Business Authority. Olmert refused to come.

Olmert demanded two months ago that Mazuz order a probe of Lindenstrauss for abusing his power and said he had no confidence in him. Mazuz decided against it.