Zelekha Joins His Targets in the Crosshairs

Civil Service probing conflict of interest claims; accountant general says 'criminal suspects' are after him.

Corruption warrior Yaron Zelekha yesterday found himself in the cross-hairs, after allegations arose that he may have had a conflict of interest in his dealings with the Trans-Israel Highway. Shortly after telling the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee of plans to make the southern section of the Trans-Israel Highway a toll road, outgoing Accountant General Yaron Zelekha was summoned to a Civil Service Commission disciplinary inquiry. At issue was whether he had a conflict of interest.

Before taking over as accountant general, Zelekha served as chief financial officer at Derech Eretz, the company that operates Trans-Israel. The civil service inquiry asked Zelekha to comment on claims related to his alleged involvement as accountant general - and suspected conflict of interest - in tenders issued by the development giants Africa Israel and Housing & Construction, which own shares in Derech Eretz.

The Civil Service means to investigate whether Zelekha violated the arrangement preventing conflicts of interest. Zelekha had promised not to deal with matters relating to his former employers for a period of one year, after he was appointed to his position in the civil service. The arrangement requires its signatory to seek legal advice whenever a possible conflict of interest arises.

According to the allegations, Zelekha met with representatives of Africa Israel to discuss the Tel Aviv light-rail tender, and arranged a meeting with Danya Cebus, a subsidiary of Africa Israel, regarding the construction of Road 431. The Commission is investigating claims that Zelekha failed to seek legal advice prior to the meetings as required.

Zelekha says he didn't need to seek legal counsel because the meetings took place well more than a year after he joined the government.

The Civil Service Commission confirmed yesterday that the inquiry is being pursued.

A spokesman for Zelekha's office dismissed the move. "The accountant general has acted, as always, in accordance with the law and the rules of good governance. He is accustomed to attempted harassment by Ehud Olmert and his representatives. These attempts have failed time and time again, and this attempt to smear him will fail as well."

"I will not allow a gang of brown-nosing criminal suspects to deter me from my fight against the wave of government corruption in our country," Zelekha told TheMarker yesterday.

Zelekha added: "It's interesting that the civil service commissioner, Shmuel Hollander, who is directly subordinate to Ehud Olmert, decided to instigate fruitless disciplinary proceedings against the accountant general immediately after a criminal investigation against him [Olmert] began, following a complaint by the accountant general about Hollander's alleged attempt to influence the outcome of a tender for appointing a deputy accountant general in favor of Olmert's crony."

The Economic Affairs Committee received the minutes of a meeting between Zelekha and a representative of Derech Eretz held on September 4, 2005, on the operation and maintenance of the northern and southern section of the Trans-Israel Highway. Earlier this week, Zelekha said that the meeting was held a year after the arrangement had expired. The discussion related to an option offered to the government, and according to the minutes, the state would pay Derech Eretz about NIS 12 million annually for maintaining the southern section, rather than NIS 30 million as proposed by the committee yesterday. Zelekha added that the minutes do not show that charging tolls was discussed.