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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 January 2007, 12:32 GMT
Olmert ally loses harassment case
Haim Ramon in court
Haim Ramon insisted any physical contact had been consensual
An Israeli court has found former Justice Minister Haim Ramon guilty of sexually harassing a female soldier.

Ramon resigned in August over charges that he forcibly kissed the young woman when she visited his office after completing military service.

The incident happened on 12 July 2006, minutes before a cabinet vote on whether to wage war in Lebanon.

The ruling by a Tel Aviv court is expected to trigger a reshuffle in Israel's beleaguered government.

Ramon - who now faces up to three years' jail - had been vowing to return to cabinet if cleared in a case that has riveted the attention of the Israeli public.

His portfolio is being temporarily handled by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a rising star in Israeli political circles.

This was not a kiss of affection. This has all the elements of sexual crime
Judge Hayuta Kochan
Correspondents say Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been contemplating a reshuffle since last year.

Public approval for his government plunged in the wake of the inconclusive conflict against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon last year.

Lines crossed

The female soldier, known simply as H, is thought to be in her early 20s.

She complained that Ramon, 56 and divorced, hugged and kissed her against her will at a party in his office, at one point forcing his tongue into her mouth.

The three-judge panel was unanimous in its opinion on the case.

"There are some lines that cannot be crossed," said Judge Hayuta Kochan reading out the verdict.

"This was not a kiss of affection. This has all the elements of a sexual crime."

Ramon admitted the kiss, but said it was the outcome of a flirtation initiated by H. The two were photographed embracing before the indecent assault.

He left the court without making a statement. Sentencing is scheduled for 21 February. He has 45 days to lodge an appeal.

The case is one of several involving allegations of wrongdoing by senior Israeli political figures.

President Moshe Katsav faces indictment on charges of rape and other sexual offences.

Police have opened an investigation into Mr Olmert's role in the 2005 privatisation of the country's second largest bank.


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