Police find president of Israel committed fraud before his term

Politicians seek Weizman's resignation

prosecution unlikely

April 07, 2000|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Israeli police said yesterday that they believed President Ezer Weizman had committed "fraud and breach of trust" in connection with large cash gifts from a French businessman before he was president, but that he could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitation had expired.

The police conclusion renewed calls for Weizman's resignation from various politicians and a nudge from a government minister. Weizman was cleared of bribery.

Weizman, 75, avoided the subject of quitting when approached by reporters last night. Leaving a hospital in Haifa, he said, "I gave my testimony to the police. Police reached the conclusion it is closing the file. For me it's enough. What the attorney [general] says, we'll see."

Weizman added: "The process took three months. I sat patiently. Now police decided it is closing the file. Thank you very much. Goodnight."

A final decision on whether he will be prosecuted will be made by state attorney Edna Arbel in consultation with Attorney General Eliakim Rubinstein. She is considered likely to follow the police recommendation.

The police finding casts a shadow on a distinguished career rooted in Israel's battle to become a nation. Weizman went from being one of Israel's first fighter pilots to building its formidable air force, and from there into politics, parliament, posts as government minister, and a strong advocate of peace with Arabs.

The investigation began two months ago after published allegations that over a period of years, Weizman had received more than $300,000 from Edouard Saroussi, a Frenchman with Israeli connections.

Police found that Weizman had received $313,000 in monthly installments of $3,500 to $5,000 between 1987 and 1993, paid by Saroussi into a trust account. Weizman was a minister in various governments from 1985 to 1993, when he was elected to his first term as president.

In addition, the report said, Saroussi gave Weizman's daughter and son-in-law $100,000 toward a house in 1986 and two years later paid a $331,000 income-tax debt for Weizman's political party. From 1990 to 1991, he also put a car at Weizman's disposal.

The relationship began as a business tie, with Saroussi believing the Weizman name "transcended borders." Weizman is a nephew of Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann.

It grew into a close friendship, police said, but Weizman also assisted Saroussi in exploring business opportunities in Israel, including launching a newspaper.

None of these efforts evolved into serious business ventures while Weizman held public office, so police cleared Weizman of bribery, saying they could not prove a motive "at the level of certainty needed."

Police did conclude that Weizman broke the law by failing to report the payments as required of ministers. This constituted the crime of "fraud and breach of trust," a category that applies to public servants, police reported.

However, they said the five-year statute of limitations had expired, and Weizman could not be prosecuted.

The president's lawyers insisted that the police report was significant only because it recommends that the file be closed, but others interpreted it differently.

"It's a very tough report; it doesn't clear the president," said Ophir Pines-Paz, chairman of the One Israel political coalition headed by Prime Minister Ehud Barak. "It's impossible to carry on with such a report."

Israel Katz, a member of parliament from the opposition Likud Party, said Weizman "must rest," while a party spokesman, Danny Naveh, said Weizman would have to do some soul-searching.

Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said, "I am sure that the president and the No. 1 citizen, trusted to determine the base for public norms, will know to make the correct decisions at the right time. I have a great deal of confidence in the president's judgment."

Although the president of Israel is largely a figurehead, Weizman has never shied from delivering outspoken opinions.

His most recent high-profile ceremonial act was greeting Pope John Paul II.

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