Israeli President Under Investigation For Receiving Cash Gifts

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

Jerusalem ( - Israel's President Ezer Weizman is under government investigation for having accepted large financial gifts from French millionaire, Edouard Seroussi while holding elected office. Amidst growing calls for his resignation, there is much speculation the he might be replaced by peace process architect Shimon Peres. The Israeli presidency in the past has been a largely ceremonial post. learned that Weizman's attorney turned over financial records to the Israeli State Attorney for investigation on Tuesday.

The president has been accused of accepting $450,000 from Seroussi, while he was a public servant by investigative reporter Yoav Yitzhak of the Israeli Financial Paper Globes and the Hebrew Daily Ma'ariv.

Supporters of Weizman claim the current furor over his financial dealings is widely seen as a reaction to his outspoken political stance and support of Israel giving up land in exchange for peace.

Several weeks ago, Weizman, who has three years left to serve in his second five-year term, drew fire from opposition Knesset Members for declaring that if a referendum on trading the Golan Heights for peace with Syria did not win 51 percent of the vote, he would resign.

Yitzhak charged that Seroussi was interested in promoting Weizman's political career. "Seroussi felt it was worthwhile to invest in his political career and to try to have him elected prime minister," Yitzhak said.

Weizman has admitted to having taken the gifts but said the money was given him to help his son Shaul, who was severely wounded in the War of Attrition and later died in an automobile accident.

There have been numerous calls by cabinet ministers opposed to various aspects of the current peace process for Weizman's resignation over the affair but the president said he is waiting on the State Attorney's opinion. Weizman has been a strong supporter of the peace process.

"After that I will make up my mind. At the moment I have not made a decision to resign," Weizman told reporters.

"I got the money for a very good person friend as a gift. It did not come from the state. There was no business angle involved," he said.

Weizman, 75, is the nephew of Israel's first president, Zionist Leader Chaim Weizmann. The position of president of Israel is a largely ceremonial one and is expected to remain politically uninvolved. But Weizman, a former Knesset member, who started out in the Likud and ended up in Labor, has become increasingly more outspoken on behalf of the political issues and particularly the peace process.

The president is elected for a five-year term by the Knesset and is usually re-elected without any controversy. Weizman in his role as president has been particularly effective as a comforter of the families of those killed in military actions and terrorist attacks.

He received great public support when he visited the bereaved families of 73 soldiers killed when two Israeli helicopters, ferrying the men to Lebanon, crashed into each other. Weizman visited each of the families during the traditional Jewish week of mourning after a death.

Relations between Weizman and the opposition visibly soured after former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu supported another candidate for the presidency when Weizman's first term was up.

Tipped to win the presidency if Weizman is forced to resign is Minister of Regional Development Shimon Peres, who is credited with having been the architect of the 1994 Oslo Accords.