Page last updated at 13:15 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

Israel's Katsav charged with rape

Moshe Katsav giving a press conference on 12/3/09
Moshe Katsav says he wants to prove his innocence in court

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav has been formally charged with rape and other sexual offences.

The indictment was filed in a Tel Aviv court. No date has yet been set for the actual trial.

The charges relate to accusations by a number of female employees who worked for Mr Katsav while he was tourism minister and president.

Mr Katsav, who resigned the presidency in 2007, vigorously denies the charges against him.

He called off a plea bargain in 2008 that would have seen him plead guilty to sexual misconduct but avoid more serious charges.

The 63-year-old said he wanted to prove his innocence in court.

If convicted of rape charges, Mr Katsav can face up to 16 years in jail. He would become Israel's first head of state convicted of sex offences.

'Victim of lynching'

According to the indictment, he is accused of twice raping an employee while tourism minister between 1996 and 1999, and also of carrying out a forced indecent act on her.

July 2000: Elected president of Israel
January 2007: Charged with rape and sexual harassment
28 June 2007: Strikes plea bargain to avoid rape charges and a prison term
29 June 2007: Resigns as part of plea bargain
July 2007: Supreme Court allows challenge to plea bargain
Feb 2008: Supreme Court upholds plea bargain
April 2008: Katsav rejects plea bargain
March 2009: Indicted on two counts of rape and other sexual offence charges

Mr Katsav is also alleged to have sexually harassed two other employees - and in the case of one of the women carried out an indecent act - in the presidential office after he took on the ceremonial role in 2000.

He faces a further charge of tampering with a witness after the scandal came to light in 2006.

Earlier this month, an angry Mr Katsav told a news conference that he was "the victim of a lynching" by the judiciary, after news broke that he would be indicted.

"I have been humiliated, crushed, knocked down, and I suffer. But I am determined to fight to ensure that the truth emerges, all the truth, because I am innocent," he said, flanked by his wife Gila.

The justice ministry responded by accusing him of turning the case into a "media circus".

"The entire speech was riddled with bogus facts and false accusations, not to mention relentless slander against the attorney general and the heads of the law enforcement system," ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen was quoted by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth as saying.

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