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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 March 2007, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Olmert ally gets lenient sentence
Haim Ramon
Haim Ramon could return to office, but not as justice minister
An Israeli court has handed a lenient sentence to a former minister guilty of sexual harassment, and left open the possibility of his return to cabinet.

Haim Ramon, a close ally of the prime minister, was given 120 hours of community service and fined 15,000 NIS (1,800) for kissing a female soldier.

The court declined to qualify his crime as one of "moral depravity" which would bar him from parliament or cabinet.

It is one of several high-level misconduct cases in Israel currently.

The most potentially explosive allegations involve President Moshe Katsav, who faces indictment on charges of rape and other sexual offences. He denies wrongdoing.

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

'Macho behaviour'

Former Justice Minister Ramon was found guilty in January of forcibly kissing the soldier as she visited his office.

He resigned in August over the charges. The incident happened on 12 July 2006, minutes before a cabinet vote on whether to wage war in Lebanon.

Ramon admitted the kiss, but not indecent assault, said the kiss was the outcome of a flirtation initiated by her.

The court ruled that Ramon's offence was "not at the top level of crimes of this sort and we got the impression it was not premeditated".

"We are certain a lesson has been learned and the defendant will be more careful in the future," the judges said.

The conviction could have carried a sentence of three years. Legal expert Moshe Negbi told Israel Radio that the initial conviction, followed by a light sentence, sent mixed messages in a country where women's rights groups have long complained of a macho culture among powerful men.

There is no immediate word on whether Mr Olmert would welcome Ramon, a close confidant, back to the cabinet.

Mr Negbi said he could not have his former justice portfolio back, or any other duties relating to law enforcement.

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