- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

JERUSALEM (AP) - Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was indicted Thursday on rape and other sexual offense charges, after calling off a plea deal that would have allowed him to escape jail time.

The 63-year-old Katsav was charged with raping a woman who once worked for him, in addition to lesser sex crimes involving two other former employees. The indictment was filed in Tel Aviv district court nearly three years after the case broke.

Katsav, who has insisted he is innocent, had no immediate comment. No trial date has been set.

Attorney General Meni Mazuz notified the former president two weeks ago that he would be charged.

Days later, Katsav delivered a 2 1/2-hour televised speech in which he denied all charges, fiercely attacked his accusers and waved a compact disc that he said would prove his innocence. Katsav has accused the media of orchestrating a witch hunt against him, implying he was a target because he represents Jews of Middle Eastern origin.

The women worked for Katsav when he was tourism minister in the 1990s and president earlier this decade. They have accused him of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment.

In 1998, Katsav forced one woman to the floor of his office at the tourism ministry, pulled off her pants and raped her, according to the indictment. A second time that year, he summoned her to a Jerusalem hotel to go over paperwork and raped her on the bed in his room, the indictment said. Katsav tried to calm his victim by saying “Relax, you’ll enjoy it,” the indictment read.

Katsav became president in 2000. The indictment said he harassed two women during his term, embracing them against their will and making unwanted sexual comments. On Katsav’s 60th birthday in 2005, an assistant offered congratulations. He then hugged her at length, sniffing her neck, according to the indictment. She complained to police, and the indictment said Katsav later tried to persuade her to change her testimony, earning him an additional charge of obstruction of justice.

Katsav resigned two weeks before his seven-year term ended in 2007 under a plea bargain that would have required him to admit to lesser charges of sexual misconduct but avoid jail time. Last April, however, he abruptly called off the deal and said he would stand trial to clear his name.

The charges against Katsav are the most serious allegations ever brought against an Israeli leader.

Although Israel’s presidency is a largely ceremonial position, the allegations roiled the country by portraying the man who was supposed to be Israel’s moral compass as a predatory boss who forced himself on female employees.

Katsav was replaced by elder statesman and Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres.

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