Interrogation over alleged sexual harassment takes place in "pleasant atmosphere."
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, DAN IZENBERG
Amid new allegations of scandal in Beit Hanassi, police questioned Katsav under caution for more than seven hours in his Jerusalem residence on Wednesday.
Well into the second month since dueling allegations surfaced that the president was either being blackmailed by a former employee, or had made inappropriate sexual advances toward the woman, police investigators continued to attempt to clear up the he-said, she-said claims that Katsav conducted unwanted sexual activity with two employees.
Hours before his interrogation started on Wednesday, claims circulated that a Beit Hanassi employee close to Katsav had tipped off crime lord Ze'ev Rosenstein that he was under police surveillance. Rosenstein was later arrested and extradited to the US, where he is serving a sentence in a Florida prison for drug trafficking.
The latest allegations against the Katsav confidant came less than a day after the president's legal team lashed out against repeated leaks concerning the sexual harassment investigation against him, accusing the unnamed sources of pursuing political interests rather than seeking the truth. Police were unwilling to comment Wednesday as to whether or not they would launch a criminal investigation into the allegations of the tip-off.
Sources close to Katsav described the lengthy questioning as taking place in a "pleasant atmosphere." After the questioning, the president's attorney, Zion Amir, emphasized that Katsav had cooperated fully and answered all questions. Echoing the Beit Hanassi comments, Amir also added that the questioning was conducted good-naturedly and in "a professional manner."
"We have no objections to anything," he said. "The president has committed himself to cooperate the whole way and to place himself at [the investigators'] disposal at all times... to speed up the investigation and bring it to an end as quickly as possible. I assume the investigators will have more questions on different subjects, and they will receive answers to everything."
In the course of the questioning, Katsav was shown the evidence against him and warned in advance that anything he said could be used against him. He will be questioned again on Thursday. The special investigative team, led by Financial Crimes top cop Lt.-Cmdr. Yoav Segelovich, is expected to present its findings to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, who will decide whether to charge the president.
Allegations that Katsav issued pardons in exchange for money were not addressed during the questioning.
Meanwhile, the Movement for Quality Government on Wednesday called on Katsav to "take a vacation" while he is under investigation.
"Katsav should not be dealing with pardons or approving the appointment of judges at this time," movement head Eliad Shraga told The Jerusalem Post. "We have not called on him to resign or suspend himself. However, out of respect for the office of president and for the state, he should go on vacation."
Others said that Katsav need not take any steps at this time. But according to Tel Aviv University Prof. Assa Kasher, "If the moment comes when Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz decides there is enough evidence to warrant an indictment, Katsav will have to resign and not just suspend himself. When it comes to public office holders in general, and office holders who are meant to be symbols in particular, there cannot be even the appearance of wrongdoing."
The High Court of Justice has established strict standards for senior office-holders, such as ministers, who are suspected of wrongdoing. According to its rulings, a minister must resign as soon as an indictment is lodged against him. However, the president enjoys immunity from prosecution. Therefore, he cannot be indicted. Nevertheless, said Kasher, if Mazuz decides there is enough evidence to warrant an indictment, even if he does not draft it, that is the moment Katsav must go.
Constitutional expert Susie Navot agreed. She told the Post that "at this moment, the president is not under any legal obligation to suspend himself or resign. If at the end of the investigation it turns out that there is sufficient evidence to try him, that is the moment to insist he step down. If a minister has to resign as soon as an indictment is filed against him, the same principle applies even more so for Katsav."
She pointed out that Katsav is the only senior office-holder who does not have a legal adviser. Thus, there is no one to tell him when he should step down from a legal point of view. Even though the attorney-general is not his legal adviser, his decision as to whether or not to file an indictment will have to serve as Katsav's guiding light, Navot said.
Should Katsav refuse to resign voluntarily, the Basic Law: The President provides for the possibility that the Knesset, which elected him in the first place, could depose him for "conduct unbecoming his status as president of the state."
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