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Labor Alignment Unhappy over Knesset Probe Methods of Bankrupt Auto Firm

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The Labor Alignment admitted last night that it was unhappy over the way the Knesset finance committee is conducting its probe into the affairs of the bankrupt Autocar Company. The committee, chaired by Avraham Schechterman of the opposition Gahal faction, was taken to task by coalition leadership chairman Moshe Baram for acting like an official committee of inquiry.

Baram said on a radio interview that the Knesset group lacked the authority to swear in witnesses. He said persons appearing before it could not defend themselves against charges and there was no provision that they may be represented or even accompanied by legal counsel.

The finance committee is sifting charges of mismanagement, bribery and false book-keeping on the part of Autocar, the Israeli affiliate of the British Leyland Motor Co., which went into receivership last month and is heavily in debt to the government. Schechterman opened the hearings to the public at the request of Shmuel Tamir, an MK of the opposition Free Center faction.

Labor Alignment members of the committee did not oppose the move and some have said they would not bow to pressure from above, hinting that Party leaders have expressed displeasure over the way the hearings are going. Two Alignment MKs, Adi Amoral and Mordechai Zar, said in a radio interview that the inquiry had reached a stage where closing it to the public would have an adverse effect.

SAPIR: NO ATTEMPT TO DODGE ISSUES

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir sought to assure members of the women’s section of the Labor Party that “there is no attempt to dodge the issue” with regard to the Autocar probe or the alleged scandal in the affairs of Netivei Neft, the government-owned oil company operating oil fields in the occupied Sinai peninsula, Speaking to the group in Tel Aviv last night. Sapir said the government had granted loans to Autocar on the strength of the name and reputation of its parent company, Leyland Motors, which guaranteed the loans. He said the Israeli partners in the defunct firm, the Histadrut-owned Koor Ltd, and the Central Corp., would also be held responsible for the company’s debts.

Sapir refused to endorse a demand by the Labor women for the resignations of Justice Minister Yaacov Shimshon Shapiro and Deputy Finance Minister Zvi Dinstein whose names have been mentioned in connection with the Netivei Neft affair. Shapiro was accused of dragging his feet in opening a probe of the firm and Dinstein was accused by other principals in the case of attempting to block an investigation. Sapir said a grave injustice was being done to Shapiro who, he said, acted when complaints against Netivei Neft were referred to him. Sapir rejected demands for Dinstein’s resignation “now.”

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