Prime Minister: 'I Tried to Fire Zelekha a Year Ago'

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claims that he tried to fire the treasury accountant general, Yaron Zelekha, when he was serving as finance minister before last February's elections.

"A year ago I talked with the attorney general, and announced that I meant to fire the accountant general, Yaron Zelekha, for improper and subversive activity towards his colleagues," Olmert said in a speech today before a committee of newspaper editors.

The prime minister says that at the time, he presented Attorney General Menachem Mazuz with a detailed list of Zelekha's alleged misdeeds, "and the attorney general showed understanding," Olmert said.

However, it was a time of elections to the Knesset and the two agreed that "any such step should wait until after the voting." And after the elections, which Kadima won and placed Olmert in the prime ministerial seat, he said that "he felt that the next finance minister should be the one to deal with Zelekha" - which is happening.

Just yesterday, Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson usurped part of Zelekha's power, regarding the extension of credit to debt-strapped local authorities. Zelekha's position had been that first, the cities in question should learn to control their overspending, but Hirchson approved the loans.

"Since Hirchson is dealing with the matter, he should continue," said Olmert in response to a question.

Olmert was asked if his intention to fire Zelekha had been behind the testimony Zelekha gave to the state comptroller (charging that Olmert had tried - in vain - to skew the privatization of Bank Leumi in favor of a friend, the Australian business baron Frank Lowy). The prime minister answered sarcastically: "Do you imagine that if he knew I wanted to fire him, he would have complained about me?"

Zelekha is meanwhile coming under very heavy pressure at the ministry to resign. He was appointed by Benjamin Netanyahu, a political rival of Olmert's, when Netanyahu served as finance minister.

Sources close to Hirchson say the only reason the finance minister hasn't fired Zelekha is his concern that the state comptroller would simply force him to reinstate the accountant general, which would only serve to strengthen Zelekha's status.

On Wednesday Hirchson took over Zelkha's responsibility's relating to a tender for granting credit to municipalities.

The deal that Hirchson approved in Zelekha's stead is with Bank Ostar Hashilton Hamekomi, regarding NIS 200 million for local authorities in a state of crisis. The minister and his cronies wanted the money to be paid as soon as possible, to prevent the renewal of the public sector strike over nonpayment of wages to civil servants.

Zelekha for his part objected, saying a tender should be held, and that he calculated that an open tender could save the state NIS 40 million.