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Rape charges recommended for Israeli

CTV.ca News | October 16 2006

Israeli President Moshe Katsav is facing mounting pressure to quit his post after police recommended that he face charges of rape, sexual assault and fraud.

Israeli police and the Justice Ministry said they had gathered evidence that the veteran politician, "carried out sex crimes of rape, sexual molestation by force and without consent" against women who worked for him.

The police statement also said investigators found basis for charges of illegal wiretapping, and fraud and malfeasance in office in the case of pardons granted by the president.

Investigations into allegations of disrupting a police investigation and harassing a witness were still ongoing, police said.

Israeli media reports have said that the case against Katsav is based on complaints from up to 10 women.

Katsav has denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a "public lynching without trial".

In a statement released by his office, his lawyer Zion Amir said police are not authorized to bring charges.

He noted that in the past when police have recommended putting senior officials on trial, the attorney general has dismissed most of the cases.

The investigation began earlier this year after a former employee alleged Katsav forced her to have sex under the threat of dismissal.

"This investigation has been ongoing for a number of months now -- the war with Lebanon pushed it to the backburner of people's minds -- but it was still ongoing," CTV's Middle East Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer told CTV Newsnet.

"(Police) had confiscated documents, taken a computer, and spent many days at his home questioning the president."

It will be up to Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz to decide whether to indict the 60-year-old president.

"This is a decision that could take a number of weeks, it's something he will no doubt spend a lot of time thinking about," Mackey Frayer said.

Since Israel was founded in 1948, rumours have swirled about prominent politicians' alleged sexual affairs, including a former defence minister who was convicted of sexual harassment.

But the charges that Katsav faces would be the most serious ever to be brought against a serving Israeli politician.

He could face to up to 16 years in prison if he is tried and found guilty of rape.

The post of president, to which he was elected for a seven-year term that ends in 2007, is largely ceremonial with little authority.

Katsav, a veteran member of the right-wing Likud party, served as transport minister in the late 1980s and in 1996 as minister of tourism and deputy prime minister.

"Katsav is someone who has spent most of his life in the public eye," Mackey Frayer said. "His term is due to expire at the end of November 2007 but people are really saying this does spell the end of him."

Commentators in Israel's biggest newspapers called for Katsav to step down.

"Moshe Katsav served as president for the past six years and the presidency served him. There is no choice but to say goodbye," commentator Nahum Barnea wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

"Farewell, President Katsav," wrote legal analyst Ze'ev Segal in the Haaretz newspaper, urging him to "save ... the public's faith in the institution of the presidency" by announcing his resignation immediately.

The scandal is unlikely to have any direct effect on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his coalition government, but it is distracting attention from other political issues that are dogging the government.

With headlines on the Katsav affair taking precedence on newspapers' front pages, reports of infighting within Olmert's coalition over the chances of signing up a far-right partner have been consigned to the inner folds.

Newspapers also gave the Katsav scandal more prominence ahead of the initial findings of a military probe highly critical of the functioning of an army division in battles against Hezbollah guerrillas in the recent Lebanon war.

Iran-born Katsav is married with five children and six grandchildren. His wife has told reporters that she is confident her husband would be proven to be innocent.



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