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ISRAEL

Former Israel president avoids rape prosecution

3 min

In a much-criticised move, Israel's Supreme Court confirmed that former President Moshe Katsav can avoid prosecution on rape charges by pleading guilty on lesser charges and paying a $11,000 fine.

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Israel's Supreme Court accepted on Tuesday a highly controversial deal under which former president Moshe Katsav avoided prosecution for rape but pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

A panel of five judges voted 3-2 to reject petitions to overturn last June's plea bargain, which led to Katsav resigning in disgrace.

The ruling means that Katsav, 62, will avoid any jail time, and instead pay a fine.

Under the deal, the Iranian-born father of five admitted to a series of sex offences, including harassment and indecent acts, as well as subornation of a witness, but escaped two rape charges.

He agreed to a suspended prison sentence and a fine of 11,000 dollars.

Katsav became Israel's first head of state convicted of sex offences and the second to be forced out of the largely ceremonial office and into disrepute owing to scandal.

The plea bargain sparked a wave of outrage in the media and among women's rights groups.

Six individuals and organisations had petitioned the court to reject the plea bargain and order Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to adopt an original draft indictment.

Among them was one of the alleged rape victims, Plaintiff A, who had slammed what she called an amoral deal contrary to public interest.

Columnists, legal and political analysts and politicians also blasted Mazuz for dropping the multiple rape charges after earlier declaring that he intended to indict Katsav for rape.

Plantiff A accused Katsav of raping her while she was his secretary in the late 1990s.

"Sex offenders have been given legitimisation to do anything they want, without being punished by the law," she said at a news conference following announcement of the plea bargain.

She accused Katsav of exposing her to "physical and moral terror," of threatening to destroy her life unless she submitted to his demands, forcing himself on her the first time they had sex in his office and flashing her.

"He was like Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he had a split personality, I saw his monstrous side," she said.

Katsav told the Maariv newspaper that he decided to accept the plea bargain because "I did not have the strength for a legal battle... so I confessed to hugging and kissing out of fondness."

In the end, all charges related to Plaintiff A were dropped.

Instead, Katsav acknowledged he hugged, stroked and kissed another former employee on the mouth when he was tourism minister, and hugged a third employee and kissing her on the neck.

He insisted these were merely friendly gestures and not sexual overtures.

Katsav was replaced as head of state by Nobel peace laureate and elder statesman Shimon Peres, who lost out to the disgraced politician for the post in a parliamentary vote in 2000.

His predecessor, the late Ezer Weizman, was forced to resign in 2000 after revelations that he received around 450,000 dollars from a French millionaire while a minister and an MP.`

The Katsav affair is just one of many scandals to afflict the Israeli leadership in recent years.

In November, police decided that there was insufficient evidence to indict Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a graft case involving privatisation of a major bank when Olmert was acting finance minister in 2005.

And a son of former premier Ariel Sharon is due to begin a seven-month jail sentence on Wednesday for campaign law financing irregularities in connection with his father's bid for the Likud party leadership.
 

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