Katzav Probe Widens On Suspicion Of Wiretapping, Fraud

The police interrogation of President Moshe Katzav has widened to include allegations of wiretapping, fraud and breach of public trust. He angrily denied the charges as libelous.

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu and Hillel Fendel, | updated: 17:18

The new revelations on Wednesday night came just hours after the Knesset House Committee approved the President's request to be suspended from duties for 16 hours on Thursday. He wished to avoid a public controversy during the swearing-in of the new Supreme Court President.

The House Committee approved the request by a 12-6 vote, with three abstentions. At the same time, police were questioning President Katzav for the fifth time since being accused by former female employees of sexual misconduct.

No complaints have been filed against him, and the case became known to the police only when Katzav himself complained that he was being blackmailed. He and his wife have both consistenly proclaimed his innocence.

The new suspicions have heightened pressure on him to suspend himself from office until the entire investigation is concluded. Police also are investigating suspicions that President Katzav gave private businessmen permission to examine requests for pardons and that he improperly exercised his power to free prisoners. The wiretapping charges have been raised by former employees of his.

Police said Wednesday that they hope to conclude their report soon.

The President originally asked for a two-hour suspension effective Thursday, but lengthened it after it became clear that the Knesset House Committee was not likely to agree.

One of the three MKs who abstained in the committee vote was Gideon Saar of the Likud. Although President Katzav is a member of the Likud party, Saar said his request compromised the dignity of his office.

Two female MKs have been in the forefront of a move to force President Katzav to suspend himself until a police investigation determines whether he will be charged. MK Zehava Gal'on (Meretz) said that the President's insistence to continue in his governmental capacity is an embarrassment to the country. Labor MK Shelly Yechimovitch has been outspoken in attacking Katzav; she has personally talked with at least one of the women involved. Katzav has accused her of acting as judge and jury even without hearing both sides.

Pensioners Party MK Yitzchak Galant argued that the President is innocent until proven guilty.

Knesset legal advisor Nurit Epstein told the House Committee that the police probe should not be considered when weighing the President's request for a leave of absence.

However, opponents to the request expressed concern that President Katzav will ask for further suspensions every time he has to carry out a duty that might cause a controversy.