Israeli Police Question President for Second Time on Sex Allegations

President Moshe Katsav underwent a second day of police questioning Thursday about sexual harassment allegations, while a lawmaker collected signatures to begin the impeachment process.

Police interviewed Katsav for five hours at his official Jerusalem residence, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. He said police expect to question Katsav again next week, but declined to give further details.

The probe focuses on accusations by two former female employees who told police Katsav harassed them. One of the women also has reportedly accused Katsav of receiving money for granting pardons — one of the few authorities vested in the president, who has a largely ceremonial role.

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Katsav, who denies wrongdoing, has said he will not resign. The police investigation was initially launched when he accused one of the women of seeking to blackmail him.

However, with the investigation intensifying, calls are growing for Katsav to step aside, at least until the investigation is completed.

Katsav's predecessor, Ezer Weizman, quit his post in 2000, just before the end of his term. The resignation came after the attorney general ruled that he had acted improperly when he accepted more than $300,000 in gifts from a French millionaire.

Weizman was never indicted, but the police investigation tainted the office of the president, a national institution supposed be above scandal. The current police investigation further damages the image of the post.

"The president must not only be free of sin, he must also be free of suspicion," a legal expert, Zeev Segal, wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz on Thursday.

Yoram Marciano, a Labor Party lawmaker, said he has started collecting the minimum 20 signatures from legislators to begin the impeachment process in parliament.

"I approached the president a month and a half ago due to the dark cloud hanging over his head ... to ask him to suspend himself during the investigation," Marciano told The Associated Press. "Since he refuses to do this, what I as a lawmaker can do is collect signatures to lead to his impeachment"

Marciano said more than the 20 lawmakers have already said they would sign the petition, which would then be handed over to the parliamentary House Committee. The committee would then be able to convene to begin the impeachment process.

But Ruhama Avraham, the Likud Party lawmaker who heads the House Committee, said she would not convene the committee until the police investigation has been completed. However, she called on Katsav to take a three-month leave of absence.

Katsav was himself a Likud party lawmaker and former Cabinet minister before defeating Labor veteran Shimon Peres in a contest for the presidency in August 2000.

Israeli presidents are elected by parliament for a single seven-year term.