Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has called for a police investigation into Democratic Camp member Ehud Barak over his tongue-lashing of the state comptroller.
Barak, a former prime minister who is running in the upcoming elections with the Democratic Camp alliance, branded Matanyahu Englman “the wretched servant of Netanyahu, a rag,” in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday.
“A disgrace to the institution of the State Comptroller. People were appointed to the Permits Committee who themselves are in conflicts of interest,” Barak added, referring to a recent shakeup of the panel that is tasked, among other things, with deciding whether tycoons can finance Netanyahu’s legal defense.
Three members of the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office resigned on Thursday amid a dispute over the committee’s demand that Netanyahu return hundreds of thousands of shekels he got from a cousin to fund his legal defense.
After their resignations, Englman, the new ombudsman, announced on Monday he would expand the number of members of the committee from three to eight. Some of the new members Englman has picked for the committee reportedly have ties with Netanyahu’s Likud party.
“Today Ehud Barak launched an unbridled attack on the state comptroller, one of the gatekeepers,” Likud wrote on its Facebook page on Tuesday.
“Where did all those who scream about insulting public servants disappear to?” it added, referring to criticism of Netanyahu and his party for their often harsh rebukes of the judicial system and legal officials.
“Now it is clear that in the eyes of the hypocrites on the left, ‘gatekeeper’ is only those who serve the left. Whoever dares to express an independent opinion — it’s open season,” Likud said. “Ehud Barak must be immediately investigated.”
Englman was the candidate for the post favored by Netanyahu and elected by his Knesset coalition earlier this year.
In June, the Permits Committee ordered the prime minister to give back some $300,000 to US businessman Nathan Milikowsky, who is his cousin, a third time Netanyahu’s demand to be allowed to receive financial help for his legal defense was turned down.
The panel is charged with overseeing the financial dealings of senior public servants to ensure no conflicts of interest arise. In denying Netanyahu the financial help, it said it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors — the committee also denied the premier’s request for financial help from American businessman Spencer Partridge — to pay for the prime minister’s legal defense in a criminal case relating to his alleged receipt of gifts from wealthy benefactors in Israel and abroad, the so-called Case 1000.
It also said such aid should be sought only if the public servant needs the financial help — and asked Netanyahu to submit an assessment of his assets and net worth. The prime minister has refused to do so.
Channel 13 reported this week on a meeting that took place late last month between Englman and the committee’s members, in which the state comptroller lashed out at them over their demand that Netanyahu return money to Milikowsky, calling it an overstep of the committee’s authority.
“Your job is to decide whether to permit or not, nothing more. Don’t run my office,” Englman was quoted by Channel 13 as telling the committee members.
The resignation by the three panel members, retired judge Ezra Kama and attorneys Nurit Israeli and Avigdor Ravid, is mostly an act of protest, as their two-year terms were due to end next month in any case.
The committee’s chair, retired judge Shalom Brenner, has not resigned. His term is also set to end next month.
The Netanyahu saga has already claimed a previous committee chair, former judge Oni Habash, appointed head of the Permits Committee in 2012, who resigned in March in protest over what he called “political pressure” being brought to bear on the committee over the Netanyahu question.
Netanyahu has asked for the money to help in his defense against charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000. He also faces those charges in a pair of other investigations known as cases 2000 and 4000. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has also suggested bribery charges could be brought in Case 4000.
Mandelblit has said he intends to indict Netanyahu pending an October hearing.
Netanyahu denies all charges in all three cases, and has accused the media and activist prosecutors of conducting a political witch hunt against him.
The latest clash in the State Comptroller’s Office highlights what many observers and longtime officials in the agency are calling a dramatic shift in its function being led by Englman.
Haaretz reported last month that Englman plans to scale back the office’s probes into public corruption and focus on the post’s traditional and uncontroversial role as the polite internal critic of the state bureaucracy.
The new plans include closing the department in the comptroller’s office responsible for corruption investigations, as well as the introduction of positive feedback into reports on state bodies.
Englman, an accountant by training and former education executive who ran the prestigious Technion — Institute of Technology and the state’s top university regulator, the Council for Higher Education, was sworn in to the job on July 1. He is the first comptroller in three decades who is not a former judge.