Israeli president likely to be cleared

JERUSALEM, Feb. 14 (JTA) — Israeli President Ezer Weizman is unlikely to face criminal charges for taking large sums of money from a French millionaire, according to Israel’s state prosecutor.

Edna Arbel said the police investigation of the affair involving Edouard Saroussi was coming to an end, and “in terms of the picture at present evolving, we aren’t talking about a charge sheet.”

In an interview Monday, she predicted an early end to the police inquiry, but added, “I don’t rule out the possibility that a report will be written that will make clear to the public what happened.”

Her comments came after police met twice with Weizman for lengthy questioning sessions in recent days. Last week, another police team questioned Saroussi at a hotel in Switzerland.

Weizman, Israel’s seventh president, has acknowledged accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from Saroussi from 1988 to 1993, when he served as a legislator and Cabinet minister.

But he has insisted they were personal gifts that he was not required to declare. He also insisted that he had offered Saroussi nothing in return.

In a special televised address to the nation Jan. 23, Weizman refused to resign or take a leave of absence pending the outcome of the police inquiry.

Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein and Arbel called in the police last month, when it appeared from a preliminary inquiry that a commercial relationship existed between Weizman and Saroussi at some time during the early 1980s.

This gave rise to a suspicion that the moneys may have been connected to that relationship, rather than a gift.

On Monday, Weizman admitted to reporters that now he would not accept large gifts from any friend.

Earlier, without reference to the affair, Weizman had told some close associates that he would weigh stepping down later this year after serving seven years as president.

A veteran public figure who held key posts in the military and politics before becoming president, the 75-year-old Weizman is now in the second term of his presidency, which has spanned both left- and right-wing governments.

The outspoken Weizman has frequently been a counterbalance to government policy, pushing for progress when the peace process faltered and urging a slowdown during waves of terrorist attacks.

Most recently, he gave his unequivocal support to an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in order to reach peace with Syria.

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