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Israeli President Accused of Rape

Israel- Police in Israel said on Sunday night that the country’s president should be charged with raping and sexually assaulting several women who worked for him.

In the most serious allegations faced by an Israeli head of state, Moshe Katsav was also suspected of bugging his staff’s telephones and of fraud, police said.

The case, which has dragged on for months, will now pass to the attorney general, who is expected to take several weeks to decide whether or not to bring charges.

“There is prima facie evidence of a number of incidents in which several women who worked under his authority were involved, that the president carried out sex crimes of rape, sexual molestation by force and without consent,” the justice ministry and the police said in a joint statement.

He was also suspected of a “violation of a law against eavesdropping”, it said. The announcement came after investigations, searches of his office and home, and police interrogations.

Katsav (60) denies the claims and insists he is the victim of a “public lynching”. He has refused to step down, despite lurid accounts in the newspapers.

Reports suggest that the case is based on complaints from five women who worked for Katsav during his time as president and previously when he was a government minister. Five other women have made similar complaints of sexual harassment dating back many years.

The case came to light this year when a female employee, known as A, complained that Katsav had forcibly had sex with her. The attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, will have to decide if there is enough evidence to bring charges. Police said they also have evidence that A may have tried to blackmail Katsav.

Katsav’s lawyer, Zion Amir, said on Sunday night that there had been a number of previous cases where the attorney general had dismissed police attempts to charge senior government officials.

As president, Katsav is immune from prosecution unless he resigns or is formally impeached by Parliament. His term is due to end next year and some speculate that a deal could be reached with the prosecutors that allows him to avoid trial.

A Cabinet minister, Yuli Tamir, on Sunday night called for him to quit. “The president must resign,” Tamir, the Education Minister, told Israeli television. “If he doesn’t do so, I believe a process will be launched to force him to resign.”

Katsav, who was born in Iran, is due to appear before Parliament on Monday for the opening of the winter session. Several women MPs have threatened to walk out.

A series of scandals have shaken the Israeli government in recent weeks. In August, the Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, resigned shortly before he was charged with sexually harassing an 18-year-old female soldier. The Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is being investigated over the purchase of an apartment in Jerusalem. Another senior Kadima figure, Tzahi Hanegbi, has been told he will be charged with fraud, bribery and perjury, and Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the army chief of staff, has been heavily criticised in the press for selling off his stock portfolio as the war with Lebanon was breaking out. All have denied breaking the law.

Katsav became President of Israel in 2000, narrowly beating the former Labour prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres to the job. His is a seven-year term that is due to end next year.

Katsav (60) came to the presidency with a background in politics as a leading figure and power broker in the rightwing Likud party. He held several ministerial positions in government.

He was born in the town of Yazd, in central Iran and, although he emigrated to Israel as a child in 1951, he still speaks Farsi. During the funeral for Pope John Paul II last year he was seated near the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, who also comes from Yazd.

The two leaders of nations that are fierce opponents had a discussion in Farsi and reportedly shook hands — a move that caused both men embarrassment when mentioned in their newspapers at home. – Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006


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