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Bribery Investigation Spotlights Corruption of Israeli President

By Tracy Wilkinson
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- JERUSALEM

Of the many political scandals gripping Israel these days, perhaps none has been as unsettling as the bribery investigation of popular President Ezer Weizman.

On Thursday, police closed the case, recommending Weizman not stand trial. But the resolution quieted neither the calls that Weizman resign nor the public angst over the tarnishing of a national leader and the system he heads.

A former war hero and member of one of Israel’s founding families, the 75-year-old president has been under investigation for the last three months for receiving more than $300,000 and other gifts from a French millionaire.

Police investigators who conducted the probe presented a 120-page report Thursday to state prosecutors. Citing lack of evidence, they recommended that Weizman not face criminal charges for bribe-taking and tax evasion.

Hardly an exoneration, however, the report said the president should be charged with fraud and breach of trust but that the statute of limitations has lapsed.

“The bottom line,” said Weizman’s attorney, Yehuda Weinstein, “is that the case is closed. How, or why, does not matter.”

It was the first time in Israeli history that a criminal investigation has targeted a president.

Though a largely ceremonial post, the presidency is supposed to represent a moral authority that stays above Israel’s rambunctious political fray.

Since the scandal broke, and with his popularity plummeting, he has steadily resisted calls from political leaders and Israel’s major newspapers to resign.

Those calls were heard again Thursday. At the Israeli parliament, where a three-quarters vote can impeach the president, several legislators urged Weizman to take stock.

“The report is grave, and it does not clear him, certainly not morally or publicly, and it cannot be ignored,” said legislator Ofer Pines.