“I am the victim of a despicable libel campaign,” Moshe Katsav said in a statement on Sunday, declaring his innocence.
“The authorities must not let the media lynch disrupt the investigation of the truth,” Katsav said, adding “I intend to fight to the end to prove my innocence”.
The Israeli president also said he did not intend to resign and would await “the final decision” of attorney general Menachem Mazuz, who has recommended that Katsav step aside from his duties pending a possible rape indictment.
“The president is hurting, but is not afraid. The president is completely certain of his justice and innocence. All the authorities should wait for the end of the investigation, including the attorney general’s final decision,” Katsav said.
Calls for resignation
In a non-binding brief to the Supreme Court, Mazuz recommended that Katsav suspend himself from his largely ceremonial post as he faces the most serious charges ever levelled at an Israeli national leader.
“Since the president has already made it clear he has no intention of operating according to the proper norms indicated by the attorney general, the Knesset has the moral obligation to impeach him”
Zahava Gal-On, Israeli MP
“Given the special position of the head of state, who symbolises the sovereignty of the state, it is necessary that the president suspend himself during this affair, so that it reflects what public opinion expects from the institution of the presidency,” Mazuz said, according to the brief.
The statement from Mazuz increased the pressure on the 60-year-old father of five to resign after police said on October 15 that a week-long investigation had uncovered enough evidence to charge Katsav with rape, sexual harassment and wire-tapping.
Mazuz also suggested that parliament should use its right to impeach the head of state should he refuse to step aside.
“As the Knesset is the only body that can pronounce itself on the end of the president’s mandate, it should think about using its prerogatives depending on the path that the president decides to take,” he said.
Israeli members of parliament from across the political spectrum called on the president to act on the attorney general’s recommendation and step down temporarily, with some calling for impeachment proceedings should he fail to do so.
“Since the president has already made it clear he has no intention of operating according to the proper norms indicated by the attorney general, the Knesset has the moral obligation to impeach him,” Zahava Gal-On, a MP from the leftist Meretz Party, told the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper on Sunday.
Prosecutors have begun to draft an indictment to present to Mazuz, who will then have up to three weeks to decide whether to indict the president.
Katsav became the president
Police and prosecutors want Katsav to step aside as “it is difficult to continue in an investigation while the president is in office, since employees in the president’s offical residence, who are considered to be important witnesses in the case, fear for their futures as long as the president is their ‘boss’,” Yediot Aharonot wrote.
Katsav is immune from prosecution while president, but could face charges if impeached by a vote of 90 in the 120-member Knesset.
A week ago, the Supreme Court gave Katsav one week to explain why he has not stepped down. Katsav’s office told AFP on Sunday that it did not know whether the president would issue a reply to the court, but local media quoted anonymous sources in his office as saying that he was unlikely to do so.
Katsav, a bland career politician who rose from obscurity in July 2000 to become Israel’s first president from a right-wing party, has repeatedly denied the charges against him and has vowed to clear his name.
Police opened their investigation in July, after Katsav filed a complaint against a former female employee, identified only as A, saying she was trying to blackmail him. The employee in turn accused him of sexual harassment.
As the inquiry unfolded, police investigated complaints from no fewer than 10 women on charges ranging from rape to sexual harassment and abuse of authority.
The president was grilled five times at his Jerusalem residence over allegations that he forced women employees to have sex with him by abusing his position of authority, and police said they found enough evidence to file charges in three or four of the cases.
They said they did not find enough evidence to file extortion charges against A.