Israeli president under fire
ISRAELI police last night recommended that the country's president, Moshe Katsav, should be charged with rape.
Police issued a statement yesterday after meeting with state prosecutors to present the findings of their investigation.
They also said that Mr Katsav, 61, should also face charges relating to fraud and illegal wiretapping.
The actual decision of whether to bring a case against him will be taken by State Attorney Menachem Mazuz.
The investigation has further shaken Israelis' already tenuous faith in their leaders and the formal indictment of the president, which could come in just a few weeks, would likely force him to step down in a devastating blow to the largely ceremonial office.
The president is traditionally a national symbol meant to rally patriotic feelings at home and support for Israel abroad, but commentators said the actual existence of the position could now be under threat.
The three-month police investigation looked into a string of allegations of rape, sexual harassment, electronic eavesdropping and granting pardons in exchange for cash.
Mr Katsav, who is married and a father of five, has denied the claims.
His brother Lior yesterday alleged that the police were guilty of "negligence" in carrying out their investigation.
"The police, supported by several journalists, carried out a huge hunt for all the women who worked with him during his 40-year public career," he claimed.
"They begged them, tell us something, maybe make something up, propose something, maybe there is something."
The investigation into Mr Katsav began earlier this year after a former employee alleged he forced her to have sex under the threat of dismissal.
Police repeatedly questioned the president at his official residence and seized personal documents during their inquiry.
Israeli media reports said the case was based on testimony from five out of a total of ten women who complained against Mr Katsav and had worked with him during his tenure as president or previously when he was a cabinet minister in the government.
The other five cases were not pursued because the statue of limitations had expired.
Police also said charges should be brought relating to fraud and malfeasance in office in the case of pardons granted by the president.
Investigations into allegations of disrupting a police investigation and harassing a witness were still in progress, the television station added.
In arguing his innocence, Mr Katsav said in an interview in September that three of the complainants had asked to work for him after the alleged harassment had occurred.
And there were reports yesterday that one of the women was to be indicted on charges of blackmailing Mr Katsav.
While a previous president and several prime ministers have been suspected of financial misconduct and a former defence minister was convicted of sexual harassment, the charges facing Mr Katsav would be the most serious criminal counts ever brought against a serving Israeli official.
A senior investigator said earlier yesterday there was enough evidence to indict the president on "some of the matters" that were investigated, but declined to give further details.
Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, said the scandal would not have much effect on the balance of power in Israeli politics, but said it could potentially threaten the future of the office of president.
"This adds to a broader sense that the upper reaches of Israeli politics are corrupt," he said.
"There is a cumulative process in which the public is increasingly fed up with politics."
Mr Alpher said Mr Katsav's woes "make it a lot easier for people to propose doing away with the presidency".
A and B spell formula for disaster
ISRAEL's first president, Chaim Weizmann is remembered for helping win the friendship of Britain and the United States; the second president, Itzhak Ben-Zvi, is best recalled for his personal modesty; but Moshe Katsav, the eighth and current president, has become associated primarily with two letters, A and B.
These are the initials of two of the ten women whose complaints of sexual misconduct by Mr Katsav have now tarnished the largely ceremonial office of the presidency, perhaps beyond repair.
The road to an expected recommendation from the police to indict Mr Katsav began in July when he complained to Israeli Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz that Ms A, a former secretary, was seeking to extort money from him by threatening to accuse him of sexual harassment. The probe soon began to focus on Mr Katsav himself, however, and Ms A's blurred-out face began to stalk the president from the newspaper stands.
She accused him of forcing her to have sex with him by threatening to fire her if she refused.
She later added another accusation: that he was selling off presidential pardons for prisoners.
Israel Television's Second Channel said Ms A had threatened to disclose the number of an overseas bank account set up to collect money Mr Katsav allegedly received for granting pardons.
Mr Katsav denies all the allegations and claims that he is the victim of a "witch-hunt" in which the police and the media are trying to topple him from office.
But then in a very short period of time he faced five other similar complaints, including one from the so-called Ms B, who briefly worked for him when he was transport minister.
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