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Archive for Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Prosecutor seeks indictment of president

January 24, 2007

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— Israel's attorney general announced Tuesday that he intends to indict President Moshe Katsav on rape, sexual assault and other criminal charges based on allegations made by female former employees.

In a statement, the Justice Ministry said that "the attorney general, with the agreement of the state attorney, reached the conclusion that there is sufficient prima facie evidence to indict the president."

The move by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who has proved aggressive in pursuing allegations of official crime and corruption, gives significant weight to a case that has highlighted workplace relations between powerful men and their female aides.

A final decision on whether to formally charge Katsav, 61, will follow a hearing during which the president can present his defense. That process could take several months. If Mazuz decides to move ahead, it would mark the first time an Israeli president has been indicted.

Israel's presidency is largely ceremonial. The president is elected by parliament in a secret ballot and cannot be tried for a crime unless first impeached by parliament. Katsav, whose single seven-year term is set to expire in July, has denied the allegations made by a number of women who worked for him while he was a Cabinet minister and later as president.

The incident is the gravest, in terms of the crimes alleged, in a raft of cases pending against several top Israeli officials.

Taken together, the cases, which have gained momentum in recent months, have demoralized an Israeli public whose confidence in some of the country's most esteemed institutions was already shaken by the inconclusive war in Lebanon against Hezbollah last summer.

Last week, Mazuz opened a criminal investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to determine whether, as finance minister, he sought to influence the privatization of a prominent Israeli bank to benefit a friend.

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