JERUSALEM,(Reuters) – The legal official who will decide whether there is enough evidence to bring rape charges against Israeli President Moshe Katsav recommended on Sunday that Katsav stand down until his investigation is over.
The office of Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz made the recommendation in response to a private lawyer’s High Court petition demanding Katsav resign after police said there was evidence the president raped and molested female employees.
Katsav, 60, has denied any wrongdoing. Though his formal functions are largely that of a figurehead, the case has underscored widespread unhappiness in Israel with the national leadership following the inconclusive recent war in Lebanon.
The Justice Ministry quoted Mazuz as telling the High Court that the severity of the allegations against the president should prompt him to “consider suspending himself from duty by asking parliament to declare him temporarily incapacitated”.
Katsav’s lawyer, Tziyon Amir, said he would confer with his client later in the day on whether to heed the advisory.
“The president is not only struggling for his personal honour and innocence, he is struggling — and this is worth hearing — for due process of law, for respect for an individual’s rights,” Amir told Israel Radio.
Katsav has already made use of the temporary incapacitation mechanism since the scandal broke, standing down for less than 24 hours earlier this month in order to avoid officiating at the swearing-in ceremony for a new High Court president.
The Justice Ministry is considering whether evidence compiled against Katsav warrants what would be the first prosecution of an incumbent Israeli president on felony charges.
Mazuz, who has final say on whether to go to court, said a trial would require Katsav to stand down pending a verdict.
Once an indictment is served against Katsav, the Justice Ministry said, “it would be against procedure and propriety for the president to continue in office”.
The case is unlikely to have direct effect on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government. A member of Olmert’s cabinet, Yaacov Edry, told reporters he thought Katsav should suspend himself.