Israeli President Under Criminal Investigation

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli legal authorities on Thursday launched a criminal investigation into the financial dealings of President Ezer Weizman, a step some analysts believe will force his resignation.

A police investigation ordered two weeks ago into Weizman's acceptance of large cash gifts has revealed a business connection between Weizman and a millionaire French businessman named Edouard Seroussi.

The partnership, the Justice Ministry said, apparently continued after Weizman became a cabinet minister.

Weizman, who earlier admitted having received money, said he wished to be "investigated like any other citizen" but hoped the investigation would be concluded quickly.

Before the allegations emerged, Weizman, who is 75 and ailing, was rumored to be considering resigning from his post early. Since then, however, he has refused to stand down, saying that he would await the outcome of the investigation.

"He will not resign from his job," said Arieh Shumer, Director of the President's Bureau, in a radio interview. "He will continue his job because he is not thinking about this now. He will do his duty."

A Justice Ministry spokesman told it was impossible to know how long the investigation would take and what the outcome would mean for Weizman. In the meantime, he (Weizman) was not required to leave office.

Menachem Hofnung, professor of political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told he did not believe Weizman would complete his second five-year term that still has about four years to run. "Weizman is not going to finish his term - not even until the Jewish New Year in September - because of this affair. Even if there are no charges against him, it smells so bad," Hofnung said.

The Israeli president, elected by the Knesset, holds a largely ceremonial post. But Weizman has come under fire in the past two years for what critics have called political meddling, in particular in his partisan support for Labor's peace initiatives.

The allegations were first publicized by a reporter - apparently tipped off by a disgruntled accountant who had been fired - in what Hofnung said appears to be a "personal vendetta." It is the first time an Israeli president has been under criminal investigation.

If Weizman retires early or is forced to resign, his office will be temporarily filled by the Knesset Speaker until a new president can be chosen.

The president is elected by a simple majority of the Knesset from among candidates nominated on the basis of personal stature and lifelong contribution to the state. The most likely candidate to succeed Weizman is Minister for Regional Cooperation, Shimon Peres.

Peres, who has served in the Knesset for the better part of the last 40 years, is credited with being the architect of the 1994 Oslo Accords which are the foundation of the current peace process. A former Labor prime minister, defense and foreign minister, Peres has broad support in the Knesset.