Wed, Oct 18, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Media reports say indictment drafted for Israeli president

AGENCIES , JERUSALEM

Prosecutors have begun to draft a charge sheet against Israeli President Moshe Katsav after police said they had evidence he committed rape, Israeli media reported yesterday.

Army Radio reported that the state attorney-general, Menachem Mazuz, is likely to decide within two weeks to press charges against Katsav, who is under growing pressure to resign over the scandal involving female employees.

The report, published also by the Haaretz newspaper, said Jerusalem prosecutors were drafting a charge sheet after police said on Sunday they had evidence Katsav had "carried out sex crimes of rape, sexual molestation by force and without consent."

Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said he had no comment.

Katsav, 60, whose ceremonial position is widely seen as a unifying force in a country of deep political divides, has denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a "public lynching without trial."

His lawyer, Tsion Amir, said the president would resign his post if an indictment is brought against him.

"If the attorney general decides, heaven forbid, there is room for an indictment, the president would not stay on for a moment," Amir said in remarks broadcast by the radio station.

Katsav is the highest ranking Israeli politician ever suspected of sex crimes. He could face up to 16 years in prison if he was tried and found guilty of rape.

Israeli politicians have urged him to resign or suspend himself. Katsav stayed away from a ceremonial opening of parliament's winter session on Monday.

"I hope very much that this saga shall be over soon," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Army Radio.

"It is now on the attorney general's table. He must make a decision ... [because] every day that passes is a blow to the institution [of the presidency]," she said.

Israeli newspapers said competition for who would succeed Katsav was heating up.

Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was a candidate to replace Katsav, though it was unclear whether he would agree to run. Katsav defeated Peres in an upset election when he was chosen by parliament in 2000.

Another name mentioned as a possible candidate is former Cabinet minister Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident whose aide has said would soon resign his parliament seat with the rightist Likud party for full time research.

If Katsav is forced out of office, he will become the second Israeli president in a row to resign amid scandal.

His predecessor, the late Ezer Weizman, resigned after revelations that he received around US$450,000 in "gifts" from French millionaire Edouard Saroussi.

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