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Israel parliament grants Katsav temporary leave as sex crimes charges loom

[JURIST] A parliamentary committee of the Israeli Knesset [official website] voted 13-11 Thursday to grant the request of Israeli President Moshe Katsav [official website; JURIST news archive] for a three-month temporary suspension. The Knesset vote preserves Katsav's immunity even though he faces possible charges of rape, sexual harassment, abuse of power and obstruction of justice [JURIST report] since he was granted a leave rather than resigning. Outraged lawmakers, however, vowed to have Katsav dismissed and said they will initiate impeachment proceedings against him if he does not resign. Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz [official profile] said Tuesday that there is enough evidence to indict Katsav but that formal charges will only be made once a hearing is held [Reuters report] in which Katsav will be allowed to present his case. Katsav went on Israeli television on Wednesday and maintained his innocence, claiming these charges are a result of a "vicious campaign by journalists, police and the state prosecution." Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official website; BBC profile] has also urged Katsav [JURIST report] to step down.

Under Israeli law, a president may be subject to prosecution only if impeached by parliament, which requires 90 of 120 total votes. Police initially recommended the indictment following a three-month investigation covering at least 10 complaints against Katsav by former employees. The Israeli presidency, which Katsav has held since 2000, is largely ceremonial with real power vested in the prime minister. Parliamentary speaker Dalia Itzik [Knesset profile] was appointed as acting president - the first woman in Israel to hold the post. AP has more. The Jerusalem Post has local coverage.

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