Watchdog to Grill IDF Chief-designate on Land Grab Accusations

Incoming IDF chief of staff Yoav Galant to appear at the office of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss in Tel Aviv.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff designate, is to appear Sunday morning at the office of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss in Tel Aviv for a hearing about his use of land on Moshav Amikam.

Lindenstrauss is expected to convey his findings in the case to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein this week.

Weinstein, who will have to respond by February 1 to two High Court petitions against Galant's appointment as chief of staff, must decide whether the state comptroller's conclusions are serious enough to return the matter to the committee that vets senior appointments.

Galant has been accused of improperly adding land to his property on Moshav Amikam, which he claims was an honest mistake.

On Thursday evening, Avigdor Klagsbald, Galant's attorney, who is to accompany him to today's hearing, conveyed Galant's written responses to the comptroller's draft report on the matter.

In the response, Galant denied that he lied in the affair and insisted that the Israel Lands Administration did nothing deliberately to benefit him. He attributed contradictory accounts in the matter to inaccuracies in land registrations and other disputes.

After the meeting, Lindentrauss will prepare his final report, which he is expected to hand to Weinstein by Thursday.

It has not yet been determined whether the report will be made public.

Galant is slated to assume the post on February 14.

The investigation of the affair began with complaints to the State Comptroller's Office, particularly findings and conclusions by Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, following the cabinet's approval of Galant's appointment.

Galant will be the last to testify to the comptroller and his staff on the affair.

He follows dozens of witnesses, including moshav members, Israel Lands Administration officials and the former commander of the IDF General Staff security unit, Col. Arik Elazar. The latter wrote the expert opinion that justified creating a road to Galant's house as an escape route in case of attack.

Galant is expected to tell Lindenstrauss that he never lied to the authorities or the High Court. At most, he is expected to say, mistakes may have been made in describing the complicated bureaucracy involving land on moshavim. He is expected to disagree with data presented by Eitan and with the comptroller's conclusions in the draft report, and to present his own data.

Galant has rejected claims that collusion in the Israel Lands Administration made it possible for him to enjoy special consideration and said there were no irregularities in the construction of his home, pictures of which created a media stir because of its large size.

Claims about his home were reported in the media, but are not included in the comptroller's draft report.

Galant reportedly received dozens of phone calls of support over the weekend. "We have known Galant for decades as a commander and a combat soldier," a friend from the marine commando unit told Haaretz. "There is an ethos of trustworthiness in the unit. Claims that he lied are baseless and insult us all."

According to data obtained by Haaretz, in 1992, Galant paid $35,000 for the five-dunam (1.25 acre ) tract on which he built his home, when he was a lieutenant colonel in the marine commando unit. The land is today valued at a few million shekels. The price was low because Moshav Amikam, near Binyamina, was considered relatively remote and in an undeveloped area.

Galant followed a number of other marine commando officers who bought land at Moshav Amikam because it was close to the unit's base at Atlit.

Galant began to build his home in the late 1990s. The money came from the sale of the Galants' previous home in Zichron Ya'akov for $300,000, from half the value of an apartment in Kiryat Ono Galant had inherited from his father (his sister inherited the other half ) and severance pay that Galant's wife, Claudine, received when she retired from the career navy in 1999.

Galant is paying two mortgages on the house.