The good life. Minister Barak and his wife Nili
Photo: Yariv Katz

Ethics Committee orders Barak reimburse State for ticket

Following scathing State comptroller report on wasteful delegation spending and foreign worker affair, Minister Ehud Barak takes another hit. Ethics Committee rules Barak unlawfully upgraded his and wife's plane tickets from business to first class, demands that he pay difference

The Knesset Ethics Committee ruled Monday that "there is no room for doubt" that the airline ticket upgrade that Defense Minister Ehud Barak made for himself and his wife is an unlawful benefit, and demanded that he pay the State the value of the upgrade. Barak had upgraded a ticket from business class to first class.


State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had leveled pointed criticism at the government's wasteful spending at the Paris Air Show. The Baraks had recently become entangled recently in the media for illegally employing a foreign worker in their home.


A complaint was submitted by Member of Knesset Uri Ariel (National Union) following Barak's November 10, 2009 flight from New York to Israel. According to Ariel, Minister Barak and his wife Nili upgraded their ticket from business class to first class without paying for it.


Ariel claimed that Minister Barak's consent to the upgrade constitutes unlawful receipt of a benefit and stands in violation of the decisions made by the Ethics Committee. According to him, "There is no disagreeing that upgrading the airline seat, especially on a trans-Atlantic flight, is within the bounds of a significant upgrade."


The defense minister claimed in response that the said trip "was a government trip of high political importance, and the statutes regarding travel of a minister abroad as anchored in the government code, do not address this issue."


He explained that beyond taking the flight in his capacity as defense minister, as a former prime minister flying with El Al, such an upgrade "is not an illegal benefit or a prohibited conflict of interest."


Barak further emphasized in his response, "This is a benefit or a symbol gesture only that is granted out of courtesy by El Al to the defense minister who also served in the past as a prime minister, and must be viewed as such."


El Al also explained following the reports of the affair that this is a custom in place for years. "El Al has always had a custom of granting former senior officials an automatic upgrade from whichever class the ticket was purchased," said El Al's public relations manager, Rani Rahav. "If the minister purchased the ticket in business class, it is automatically upgraded to first class. No paying passenger was hurt by the automatic upgrade of the minister and his wife."


The Ethics Committee ruled that the law does not allow Knesset members to receive benefits due to their position. In its decision, the committee wrote, "The definition of the term 'benefit' in the decision regarding gifts leaves no room for doubt that upgrading a ticket to a higher class, such as business or first class, is within the bounds of a benefit."


The Ethics Committee rejected the claim that the upgrade was offered because Barak is a former prime minister or because he is currently the defense minister, but asserted it was made because he is a member of Knesset. According to the committee, "As long as there is concern that a benefit granted could be perceived in the eyes of the public as connected to serving as a member of Knesset, it must be prohibited. Otherwise, public faith in the Knesset and its members will likely be damaged."


The committee also rejected the claim that El Al has always upgraded former prime ministers' airline tickets on the grounds that it is irrelevant. "An arrangement such as this or any other within a business corporation is unrelated to the statutes to which Knesset members are obligated," the committee ruled. The ticket upgrade does not fall within the category of a "symbolic gift", but "a gift of significant monetary worth that is much higher than other gifts whose receipt has been ruled illegal even if the giver intends them as a gesture or courtesy."


The Ethics Committee ruled that Barak must pay the State the face value of the benefit he and his wife received. However, the committee noted, "Considering MK Barak's claim that he acted out of ignorance and believed that the action is permissible because of his previous position, the committee decided against imposing any measure against him and will make do with transferring the value of the gift to the State."


פרסום ראשון: 01.04.10, 12:43
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