Lieberman Looks for a Way Into the Finance Ministry

Proposes moving Tax Authority to get around delicate legal questions.

Yisrael Beiteinu is proposing removing the tax and securities authorities from the jurisdiction of the Finance Minister to clear the way to appointing party chairman Avigdor Lieberman finance minister.

The idea was raised last week by the party's coalition negotiating team after Attorney General Menachem Mazuz voiced his objection to the appointment. As reported in Haaretz on Friday the Tax Authority was involved in the ongoing criminal investigation against Lieberman, focusing on allegations of money laundering and tax violations.

The Tax Authority is subordinate to the finance minister, who also appoints the chairman of the Israel Securities Authority. It was created in 2004 by bringing together the divisions of income tax and of property taxation with the customs and VAT authority. All of these divisions have always been under the Finance Ministry.

The Tax Authority is responsible for collecting taxes for the state, thereby providing the lion's share of the state budget. The government's tax policies - including setting tax rates and extending tax benefits and waivers to encourage investment and economic activity - is an important tool for setting economic policy. Thus, it seems inconceivable to remove the tax authority from the jurisdiction of the finance minister.

After last Tuesday's election Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu offered the finance portfolio to Lieberman. Yisrael Beiteinu suggested appointing accountant Moshe Leon to the post until Lieberman's legal issues are sorted out. Yisrael Beiteinu is also asking for a major economic portfolio for MK Stas Mesezhnikov. They want either an expanded Industry, Trade and Labor portfolio or the Housing Ministry plus the Israel Lands Administration. Also on Yisrael Beiteinu's wish list are the tourism portfolio for MK Yitzhak Aharonovitch and the public security top job for Uzi Landau, both in a reprise of past roles.

That's not all. Yisrael Beiteinu is also demanding that Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann keep his job, and some figures in the party are also angling for the Interior Ministry, coveted by Shas.

Over the weekend Yisrael Beiteinu submitted its government guidelines to both Likud and Kadima. Since the election Lieberman also met with former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri. Political sources claimed that Deri urged him to stay out of a government headed by Netanyahu and to wait instead a few months until Deri himself returns to Shas and to Israeli political life. This summer Deri will be free to take a cabinet post, following the end of the period of censure occasioned by his conviction for bribery, fraud and breach of trust and subsequent three-year prison term.

According to the same sources, Deri will be able to bring Shas into a coalition led by Kadima chair Tzipi Livni, and Yisrael Beiteinu will join the government at the same time.

The current head of Shas, Eli Yishai, has already announced his party's support for Netanyahu as the country's next premier. Yishai wants to join the coalition now, without waiting for the summer. He is asking for four portfolios for Shas as well as a significant increase in child allowances.

"We're not discussing ministerial appointments just yet," Mesezhnikov, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu's coalition talks team, said over the weekend. "There's no doubt that whichever government Yisrael Beiteinu joins, a representative from the party will serve as foreign, finance or defense minister."