President postpones visit to South American countries

Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi met early Wednesday morning in his Tel Aviv offices with Intelligence and Investigation Division head Cmdr. Yohanan Danino to discuss the appointment of the special investigative team that will probe charges of sexual harassment leveled against President Moshe Katsav. The special team will be led by Lt.-Cmdr. Yoav Segelovich and include Asst.-Cmdr. Avi Davidovich, Ch.-Insp. Sheli Dalal and two other officers who have yet to be named. Katsav has postponed his eight-day sojourn to four South American countries, which was scheduled to begin on July 22. The postponement is not in any way related to the criminal investigation, according to his political adviser Avi Granot, who was in charge of the travel arrangements. The reason for the postponement, according to Granot, was his inability to recruit enough business people to accompany Katsav on the flight and thereby defray the costs of an Air Force plane. Generally speaking, when Katsav goes abroad, he travels on commercial flights, as does his delegation. However, because he intended to visit four countries in the one continent, he decided to use an Air Force plane, the cost for which was $350,000. Members of the business and media delegations accompanying him were asked to pay $4000 each. The minimum number of business people required to reasonably defray the costs was fifty. Granot, along with the Israel Export Institute, the Israel Manufacturers Association and the Ministry for Industry and Trade was able to muster only twenty people - and not all of them were willing to accompany Katsav all the way. Katsav, who is extremely conscious about overspending, told Granot that under the circumstances the use of an Air Force plane was out of the question. He asked Granot to explore the option of a commercial flight, but one important airline has gone out of business and another could not guarantee to meet the president's schedules. Katsav had no alternative but to defer his plans to a future date. Meanwhile, events on the northern border on Wednesday overshadowed the scandal hovering over Beit Hanassi. Nonetheless when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called on Katsav on Wednesday evening, there was a large Israeli media turnout in addition to Koizumi's own sizeable media entourage. After greeting Koizumi, Katsav told reporters that the abduction and killing of soldiers was very painful and the responsibility lay at the door of the Lebanese government. Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon, he said, in response to a promise from the UN Secretary General that once Israel left the area, the border would be quiet. The people and the government of Lebanon do not understand that Hizbullah is dragging Lebanon back fifty years in time, Katsav said, adding that the Lebanese authorities must take responsibility for what is happening. Katsav and Koizumi discussed the latest development in the Middle East conflict, as well as Israel's problems with the Palestinians. Koizumi asked a lot of questions about Hizbullah, Hamas, Iran and Damascus to which Katsav replied in detail. The bulk of their discussion centered on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Koizumi is scheduled to meet on Thursday. While Katsav did not send a direct message to Abbas via Koizumi, he outlined what he expected from the Palestinian leader and made it clear that he respects him and will hold him in even higher regard if Abbas uses his authority to get the Palestinians to accept the Quartet's conditions and to facilitate the release of kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Koizumi thanked Katsav for taking the time to receive him in view of the latest hostilities. Katsav conveyed his best wishes to Emperor Akihito and issued an invitation for him to make an historic visit to Israel. Beit Hanassi employees kept an extremely low profile on Wednesday. Very few moved around in public areas, and those who did were tightlipped. When cornered by journalists, they backed away, and those who made any conversation, other than Granot, spoke in tones barely above a whisper, weighing every word before it was uttered. In addition to the escalation of new stories of sexual harassment that are aired daily in the media, Yossi Bar Moocha, the secretary-general of the Tel Aviv Journalists Union, told Israel Radio that in the days when he was an investigative reporter and Katsav was a Member of Knesset, Katsav was among those MKs who accepted favors from wealthy business people. Bar Moocha cited a specific instance of Katsav and his family being hosted in Turkey by members of the Gavrieli family, whose names have been linked with casino gambling.