Katsav grilled again on sex claims

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli President Moshe Katsav was being grilled by police Thursday for a fourth time over mounting allegations of sexual harassment in a spiralling scandal that threatens to end his career.

In the latest crisis to rock the beleaguered Israeli leadership, already left reeling from the Lebanon war, Katsav announced for the first time, that owing to the scandal, he would not attend one of his duties as head of state.

“It’s started and will continue throughout the day. We’ll see how things develop,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, stressing that investigators were receiving full cooperation from the president and his aides.

The 61-year-old Iranian-born head of state was interrogated by police for five hours at his Jerusalem resident on Wednesday. He was previously grilled by police investigators on August 23 and 24.

The married father of five faces allegations that he forced at least three women employees to have sex with him by abusing his position of authority and suspicions that his office granted illegal pardons to prisoners.

Wife Gila has stood by her man, telling journalists on Monday that she was certain her husband’s “innocence” would be proved.

Dogged by the scandal and facing reports of new women coming forward with similar sex complaints, the president has decided not to preside over the swearing-in ceremony of Israel’s new supreme court president, his office said.

Katsav, who said in the statement he was the “victim of vile defamation”, stressed that given the policy inquiry “it would not be fitting for him to preside over the oath-taking ceremony” which is scheduled for next Thursday.

Dorit Beinisch, 63, a supreme court judge since 1995, will be sworn in as Israel’s first woman top judge, replacing Aharon Barak, who is retiring.

Katsav, who could be forced to resign over the sex allegations, has denied the allegations against him and rejected calls that he step down pending the investigation.

Israel’s mass-selling Yediot Aharonot daily said Thursday that four new complaints of sexual harassment had been filed against Katsav, dating back to when he served as tourism and transport minister in the 1980s and 1990s.

Police declined to comment on the report.

The Katsav scandal is the latest blow to hit Israel’s leadership, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government steering its way through public anger over failings of its 34-day war against Hizbollah in Lebanon.

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