Rape charge dropped in Israeli president’s plea bargain

A possible rape charge against disgraced President Moshe Katsav has been dropped after he accepted a plea bargain for sexual offences on Thursday, in the worst scandal involving an Israeli leader.Attorney General Menachem Mazuz unveiled the deal — already scorned by the prosecution, women’s activists and the local media — at a news conference nearly a year after the allegations first surfaced.

The plea bargain means that the 61-year-old Iranian-born president, who risked a jail term if convicted of rape, will escape with a suspended prison sentence and a hefty fine. “Under the bargain, President Katsav admitted responsibility for a long series of sex offences, including harassment and indecent acts,” Mazuz said.

Katsav also admitting to harassing a witness, agreed to pay over $11,000 in damages and submit his resignation, the attorney general said.

The bargain will nonetheless see the scandal-ridden Katsav become Israel’s first head of state to go  court for sex offences.

But crucially, allegations of rape were dropped from the charge sheet, owing to what Mazuz called a “lack of sufficient evidence”. “If he was found guilty, the accusations could have landed him seven years in prison but he has escaped thanks to the plea bargain,” said Mazuz. The maximum sentence for rape in Israel is 16 years and the attorney general had said earlier this year that he intended to indict Katsav on a range of charges that included rape.

The terms of deal saw the father-of-five admit guilt for the first time to some of the charges he faced after months of strenously denying all accusations levelled against him in a scandal that broke near a year ago.

The original allegations of raping a female employee when he was tourism minister, sexual harassment, abuse of power, breach of trust and accepting bribes are the most serious ever levelled against an Israeli leader. But he is Israel’s second consecutive president to be forced out over a scandal. The late Ezer Weizman was forced to resign in 2000 after revelations he received around $450,000 from a French millionaire while an MP. One of the plaintives who accused Katsav of raping her lodged an appeal at Israel’s high court demanding judges overturn what her lawyer slammed an “amoral” deal “contrary to public interest”.

“This plea bargain sends a regrettable message to rapists,” said lawyer Kinneret Barashi.

As it stands, her client is on track to receive $3,500 compensation from the president and a second plaintive $8,000.

Labour Party MP Shelly Yacimovich slammed the decision.

“Eleven women brought a complaint against Katsav. Police believe them and so do I,” she said.

Local media widely predicted that Katsav would accept the offer, largely to spare himself and his long-suffering family further humiliation, but criticised a deal allowing the powerful to dodge the full thrust of the law.

“From a serial sex offender, Katsav turned into a dirty old man, pinching, caressing and kissing,” wrote the nation’s most popular Yediot Aharonot daily.

“But the indictment in the plea bargain agreement, paradoxically, will turn Katsav into a victim of the justice system and the state attorney’s office will have to provide a great many explanations for what happened here,” it added.

Katsav temporarily suspended himself from duty in January and retains immunity from prosecution as long as he technically remained head of state. His seven-year mandate expires next month.

Nobel peace laurate and elder statesman Shimon Peres was on June 13 elected Katsav’s successor and is to be sworn in president on July 15. Ironically he lost out to Katsav, a member of the right-wing Likud Party, for the post in a parliamentary vote in 2000.

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