Antitrust Lawyer on Dor Alon Merger to Work for Paz

A lawyer employed by the Israel Antitrust Authority, Anat Klein, wants to move to the private sector without undergoing the legally mandated cooling-off period. In fact, Klein wants to work for energy and banking baron Zadik Bino, who owns the Paz fuel company and the First International Bank. She is initially hoping to take the job of deputy legal counsel at Paz, a privately owned company.

The Civil Service Commission will have to rule on her request with the utmost care, as Klein had been the person who handled the antitrust authority's rejection of a merger between Sonol and Dor Alon, which served Paz's purposes.

Paz's rivals, Sonol and Dor Alon, had planned to merge and jointly contend to buy the Ashdod oil refinery - an ambition that Klein had a hand in stopping, leaving Paz to buy the refinery instead.

The move has raised across-the-board criticism in government ministries and the energy sector. Government officials have said that at the very least the matter is "problematic." "It is unacceptable for someone who is exposed to secret and sensitive information of fuel companies competing with Paz to move in such a short period of time to [work for] the company," they said.

Others referred to the move as scandalous and unthinkable, and as a tragedy for the antitrust authority.

Sources close to the authority say that Klein's desire to work for Paz is particularly problematic, as she had handled Paz's affairs directly in the Pi Glilot affair. There, she helped bring about a decision that Paz did not like at all: It was forced to sell its holdings in the fuel depot. In any case, Klein's speciality for the last six years has been the energy sector.

Sources said that under the civil service rules requiring cooling-off periods, an antitrust authority employee who had directly handled the case of a certain company, could not work for that company for a period of two years from the time they had finished handling the company's affairs.

Others are of the opinion that the cooling-off period needs to be only a year. Klein was not considered to be a senior antitrust official, since she only made recommendations to her superiors, but did not actually make decisions in the matters herself - and therefore she is entitled to a shorter waiting period. But in any case everyone agreed that a cooling-off period was required.

Also, the two-year period concerns handling the affairs of a specific person or company, and some sources believe that the Ashdod refinery deal does not meet the legal two-year requirement, and should require only a one-year cooling-off period.

The antitrust authority commented that a long time ago attorney Klein had advised the authority's management that after seven years in the legal department, she wanted to look for a new line of work. Also, she informed management about her negotiations with the Ashdod oil refinery.

The authority added that her termination of employment had been handled with the full cooperation of the Civil Service Commission's legal counsel, to make sure it was proper - and to ensure that it did not cause any rumor-mongering. "We are shocked by the publicity, since it seems to be unfair toward the employee - who is a private person," said the authority. However, the authority refused to answer directly as to whether it would support Klein's request to shorten the cooling-off period.

Klein refused to comment for this report.

Paz stated that she approached them weeks ago through a third party, and the company started negotiations that ended in her joining the firm - without any ulterior motives or outside interests involved. According to Paz, everything was done by the book and according to accepted rules. Nevertheless, Paz added that it would abide by any decision made by government authorities in the matter.

Sources close to the antitrust authority, who had handled the Sonol-Dor Alon case, said that they had no doubt Klein had handled the case properly and honestly. They said that Klein had not been privy to the business figures of the companies competing with Paz, since that information was made available only to the economics branch of the authority, and not the legal department.

The anti-corruption Ometz activist movement put in an urgent request yesterday to the state comptroller, the attorney general, the antitrust commissioner and the Civil Service commissioner, to move to stop Klein's employment at Paz. Ometz said that there is a prima facie suspicion that her appointment without a cooling-off period could be seen as a payment for her previous work. Along with its request concerning Klein, Ometz also asked for an investigation into whether Klein's previous work on Paz's affairs had indeed been free of any ulterior motives.