Israeli president is urged to step down

October 30, 2006|By Richard Boudreaux | Richard Boudreaux,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Israeli President Moshe Katsav, clinging defiantly to his office two weeks after police recommended that he be indicted on rape charges, came under pressure yesterday from the country's top law enforcement official to step down.

In a nonbinding brief to the Supreme Court, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said that Katsav should suspend himself from his largely ceremonial post until the investigation is complete.

He said he was concerned that Katsav's refusal to step aside was impeding the case, discouraging witnesses who work in the president's office from coming forward to testify.

The 60-year-old president responded with a renewed claim of "righteousness and innocence." A written statement from his office indicated that he would remain on the job for now.

Police say there is evidence that Katsav forced two female subordinates to have sex -- one who was employed in the president's office and one who worked for him when he was minister of tourism. Several other women had brought complaints against him for alleged sexual misconduct.

The police also recommended that Katsav be charged with fraud, wiretapping and other crimes.

Until now, Mazuz had proceeded cautiously with the allegations, among the most serious ever brought against a sitting Israeli national leader. The attorney general has said that his decision whether to indict the president is still weeks away. But his statement yesterday, in response to a Supreme Court inquiry, was a sign that he views the case against Katsav as a strong one.

Katsav is immune from prosecution as long as he holds office. Only parliament has the authority to remove him, which requires a vote by 90 of its 120 members.

The attorney general said parliament "should think about using its prerogatives, depending on the path that the president decides to take." Several members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, said yesterday they would try to muster the 20 votes needed to start an impeachment inquiry.

Since police announced the charges, Katsav has curtailed some of his activities. He and his wife have stopped appearing in public except when required by protocol. He has withdrawn from his biggest project of the year: setting up a forum for leading Jewish intellectuals, community leaders and philanthropists.

But he has steadfastly maintained that he is the victim of a plot by political enemies.

"Sooner or later it will be proven that the allegations ... are false stories," yesterday's presidential statement said.

Katzav's attorney, Zion Amir, noted yesterday that the investigation had been under way for four months.

"If everything were so simple and clear-cut, a decision should have been reached by now," he said.

Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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