Leumi Officer Was Involved in Budget Talks, Says Belinkov

Ram Belinkov, the Finance Ministry budget director who resigned last week after being sidelined in budget talks, claims that a top official from Bank Leumi was involved in the budget talks.

Ram Belinkov, the Finance Ministry budget director who resigned last week after being sidelined in budget talks, claims that a top official from Bank Leumi was involved in the budget talks. His accusation centers on Kobi Haber, also once the budgets director at the Finance Ministry. Haber is currently employed by Bank Leumi as a vice-president and head of the bank's Finance and Economics division.

Haber denies the accusation in no uncertain terms.

"I did not participate in a single discussion related to the state 2009 - 2010 budget," he stated yesterday.

Uri Yogev, who was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to represent him in the discussions, said that he had not participated in a single meeting with Haber.

The prime minister's legal advisor, Shlomit Barnea, says that she was unaware of any involvement by Haber.

Belinkov made the remark during a meeting of the State Control Committee. The panel had met on a different issue: suspected conflict of interest in Yogev's role. He chairs the panel that advises the National Economic Council. He was also core to negotiating the budget, and also advises the board of the Israel Electric Corporation and chairs Waterfronts - The Israeli Water Alliance. And, he is a partner in the water technology firm Whitewater.

State Control Committee Chairman Yoel Hasson asked the state comptroller, retired justice Micha Lindenstrauss, to review the process of the budget approval and Yogev's possible conflict of interests.

Hasson conducted the meeting as a quasi-hearing, during which he presented questions to Yogev and Belinkov.

Belinkov revealed that prior to his resignation, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz had asked him not to leave. But once he announced his resignation, Steinitz asked him to step down immediately, which he did.

"I met with Yogev to discuss the 2009 - 2010 budget immediately following the elections," Belinkov related. "We had discussed the matter prior to the elections as well. But immediately afterward, when Netanyahu took upon himself to form the government, we consulted on how the budget should look. My feeling that I was not part of the process became more pronounced. Then, a few days before the budget was approved, the prime minister informed me that negotiations with the Histadurt labor federation and employers would be handled by Yogev."

The budgets director bears responsibility for the budget. He is supposed to possess an overview of the nation's sources and needs, and the threats the nation faces. But once the budget director's powers are taken away from him, and his responsibility, he can't fulfill his duty, Belinkov said.

Among other things Belnikov protested that additional budgeting of about NIS 900 million each was approved for encouragement of capital investment and the chief scientist against his better judgment.

Yogev told the committee that he had signed a document undertaking to avoid conflict of interests on May 5, which was preceded by a series of discussions with the prime minister and his cronies on a package deal with the Histadrut. "Negotiations began two and a half weeks before the agreement was signed, and I was actively involved only during the last five days," Yogev said.

Hasson said he knew that Yogev had participated in budget discussions before he had signed the undertaking to prevent conflict of interests. Yogev said that he had actively sought to sign the agreement, and that he had been invited only to meetings approved by the attorney general and the prime minister's legal advisor. He added that he had declined to participate in any discussions that related to electricity and water.