President Ezer Weizman said Sunday he was determined not to resign from office, despite the launch of a criminal investigation into allegations he did not properly report cash gifts from a former business associate.
Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein on Thursday ordered police to launch a criminal inquiry into whether Weizman had acted illegally by accepting large sums of money from a longtime friend, French millionaire Edouard Saroussi. It is the first time in Israel's history a criminal investigation of a president has been undertaken.
Weizman, at 75 one of the last of a generation of founding fathers still on the Israeli political stage, has vowed to clear his name and resisted calls for him to quit his largely ceremonial post.
Police said on Friday they expected Weizman would have to testify as part of the criminal inquiry.
A Geocartography poll of 506 Israelis in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday found the nation split over how the president should act. Of those surveyed, 41 percent urged him to resign, 39 percent wanted him to stay and 20 percent voiced no opinion.
Weizman confirmed receiving money from Edouard Sarousi, although he says it is less than the $453,000 alleged by journalist Yoav Yitzhak, who broke the story last month. Weizman will not say how much he received.
The president has said he reported the money to the extent that is required by the law. He was a Cabinet minister and then a legislator during the period he acknowledges the gifts were given, 1988-93.
An initial police probe into whether Weizman had properly reported the gifts turned into a criminal investigation on Thursday when police discovered that Weizman and Sarousi had not disclosed an earlier business relationship. Police formally launched the investigation on Sunday.
Police would not say what direction the investigation would take, but the Yediot Ahronot reported they were investigating possible charges of bribery and fraud.
Weizman's lawyers have said that the business relationship was confined to 1983-84, when the president was uninvolved in politics.
Police may interrogate Weizman "under caution," meaning that his answers could be used in a possible indictment against him, Yediot reported. The investigation will take about a month, the daily said.
Police told Israeli radio on Sunday that Weizman and Sarousi would be questioned in the case. The radio said police would be checking whether the statute of limitations has run out on some possible charges against Weizman.
It is against the law to try a sitting president. Politicians and commentators across the political spectrum have urged Weizman to step down.
"He is no longer a president who possesses a legitimate status and of whom the nation is fond but a person who is desperately trying to cling to his post," the Haaretz newspaper wrote in an editorial Sunday.
Weizman has been targeted by hawks for his outspoken support o Prime Minister Ehud Barak's peace initiatives. Hard-liners say that his involved support violates the impartiality of the largely symbolic office.
Yoav Yitzhak publicized his accusations on the same day Weizman threatened to resign if the Israeli public did not pass a national referendum on an anticipated peace accord with Syria.