Israeli Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein announced today that he has advised police to investigate allegations that President Ezer Weizman acted illegally by accepting large sums of money from a wealthy friend.
"It has been decided there is a need to continue the investigation, which will be done by a police team and a representative from the prosecutor's office," Rubinstein told reporters.
Weizman has been accused of improperly accepting $453,000 from a French businessman while serving as a member of parliament and government minister from 1988 to 1993, when he became president. Since the accusations surfaced two weeks ago, newspapers and political opponents have suggested in a swelling chorus that he should resign.
Rubinstein said he turned the inquiry over to police because his office did not have the powers to continue the probe, but he declared that "no conclusions should be drawn" from that decision. He said he asked police to conclude the inquiry as quickly as possible.
Weizman--who has insisted the money was a personal gift from "an extremely close" family friend--issued a statement saying the decision to involve police to "help find the truth" is "natural [and] wise." Earlier, he told reporters: "My conscience is clean. I know exactly what I did and what I did not do."
He did not address the calls for his resignation, but he has said that he would await the outcome of an official investigation before considering his future. Critics say Weizman, 75, whose office is largely ceremonial, was required to disclose the gifts under laws governing the conduct of public servants.
Rubinstein also denied Israeli media reports that a "deal" was in the works whereby Weizman would resign three years early from his second five-year term in return for a quashing of the investigation. On Tuesday, Weizman's lawyer gave the state prosecutor's office documents defending Weizman's role in the affair.
Weizman has not denied accepting money from French real estate magnate Edouard Saroussi, and his lawyer acknowledged last week that Weizman dipped into the funds even after becoming president. Close associates have said that much of the money went to Weizman's son Shaul, who was wounded during military service and died in a car accident in 1991, while other sums went to Weizman's daughter and his family business.
The sharp-tongued president also became a focus of controversy recently by remarking that he would resign if the Israeli people were to reject in a referendum a land-for-peace deal with Syria.