Thu, Aug 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Israeli president facing probe

FAMILY AFFAIR The questioning of President Katsav over sexual harassment claims is the latest in a series of investigations involving officials, including the prime minister


Police questioned Israeli President Moshe Katsav for several hours yesterday as part of a probe into allegations of sexual harassment and graft.

The interrogation, which began yesterday morning and stretched into the afternoon, came two days after police seized computers and documents in a late-night raid on the president's official residence in Jerusalem.

The probe focuses on accusations by two former female employees who have told police Katsav harassed them. One of the women has also reportedly accused Katsav of receiving money for granting pardons -- one of the few authorities vested in the president, who has a largely ceremonial role.

Katsav has denied wrongdoing.

Katsav will be questioned at least two more times in the coming days, police officials said. Dozens of other workers in his office have also been questioned and more are to be interrogated, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the media.

The officials said the questioning was being conducted in a "good atmosphere," but that it was still too early to say whether there was enough evidence to indict Katsav. Police have also not completed their work on the computers taken from Katsav's office, the officials said.

The probe is the latest in a string of investigations involving top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon, who was charged yesterday with sexual misconduct. Ramon was forced to resign as justice minister earlier this week due to the allegations.

Ramon is a senior member of the ruling Kadima Party and is considered to be close to the prime minister. The accusations dealt a further blow to Olmert, who has been under intense criticism for his conduct during a recent war against Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas.

An 18-year-old female soldier has accused Ramon, 56, of forcibly kissing her at a farewell party at the Defense Ministry. Ramon has said he is innocent. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

Ramon has been a chief supporter of Olmert's plan to unilaterally withdraw from much of the West Bank by 2010, which has been shelved due to the war against Hezbollah.

Ramon, who is still a lawmaker, has waived his parliamentary immunity in the case.

The indictments and investigations have tainted Israel's government, hurting its image in the public.

Olmert is being investigated in connection with a Jerusalem property deal. Tzahi Hanegbi, another prominent member of Olmert's Kadima party, was informed last week that he would be charged with fraud and bribery Army chief Lieutenant General Dan Halutz has come under fire for selling his stock portfolio as war was erupted.

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