Weizman’s public life ends under a cloud


JERUSALEM, July 11 (JTA) — Haunted by a scandal that overshadowed his decades of service to the Jewish state, President Ezer Weizman has submitted his resignation.

His resignation letter was delivered Monday to the speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, who will fill the largely ceremonial post until legislators vote for a new president on July 31.

Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres is the candidate of the governing One Israel Party. The Likud candidate is Moshe Katsav, a former tourism minister and longtime legislator.

Weizman, 75, who stepped down three years before his second five- year term was to end, resigned three months after police probing his financial affairs recommended that he not be charged — but at the same time gave him a less-than-blemish-free verdict.

A veteran public figure who held key posts in the military and politics before becoming president, Weizman served as president during a period that spanned both left- and right-wing governments.

The outspoken Weizman — the nephew of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann — 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.

Police launched their investigation of Weizman after a free-lance journalist, Yoav Yitzhak, published allegations that he had received a regular stipend for years, starting in the late 1980s, from a French millionaire friend, Edouard Saroussi.

More than $300,000 was involved, Yitzhak asserted — and the police confirmed the total.

Weizman received the gifts when he served as a legislator, a minister and even as president, the police probe found.

Police also corroborated that Saroussi had given $100,000 to Weizman’s daughter and a car to Weizman himself.

Weizman, Israel’s seventh president, acknowledged accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from Saroussi. But he insisted they were personal gifts that he was not required to declare.

The police report, released April 6, found insufficient evidence to sustain a charge of bribery, even though the police documented instances in which Saroussi sought Weizman’s help to promote Saroussi’s business interests in Israel.

The police did find evidence of fraud and of breach of trust. They recommended that no charges be brought — but only because the statute of limitations had expired.

The latter findings led most political and legal observers to conclude that Weizman’s continued tenure in office was unacceptable from the standpoint of public propriety.

Following the police report, Weizman said he had long been considering retirement before his term was to end in 2003.

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