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Former Israeli president Katsav indicted on rape charges

JERUSALEM — Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav was indicted on Thursday on charges of rape, sexual assault and obstruction of justice, judicial steps almost certain to lead to a trial that could land the former president in jail.

State Attorney Menahem Mazuz, who has been investigating Katsav for nearly three years and at one point indicted him, only to rescind the indictment as part of a plea bargain, re-submitted the indictment Thursday in a district court in Tel Aviv.

Katsav actually launched the case in June 2006 when he complained to Mazuz that a female former employee was blackmailing him. Soon afterwards the investigation turned on the president, on suspicion that he'd sexually abused women, including the one he said was trying to blackmail him. The investigation widened to include employees who'd worked for him in other offices.

According to published reports, the most serious and reliable charges were made by a woman referred to as "A" from the Tourism Office — in Israel the identity of victims of sexual crimes are protected — who accused Katsav of raping her.

By January 2007, Mazuz had accumulated enough evidence to announce that Katsav would be charged with the rape of victim "A" and sexual crimes against other women. Mazuz decided after a hearing, however, that the case wasn't as strong as he originally thought. In June 2007, Katsav resigned and struck a deal with Mazuz, agreeing to plead guilty to lesser charges.

Advocacy groups, outraged at what they saw as a slap on the wrist for Katsav, appealed, but the high court refused to reject the plea bargain, deciding that it was reasonable.

When it came time, however, for Katsav to formally plead guilty in April 2008, he recanted. He and his lawyers argued that Mazuz couldn't charge him with more serious crimes because when Mazuz himself had acknowledged in court that the case against him was weak.

Mazuz then reexamined the case and decided to indict Katsav for the rape of victim "A" and other serious charges. In a strange 2 1/2 hour press conference last week, Katsav attacked the police, the prosecution and his accusers and claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy organized by people who'd opposed his election.

(Churgin is a McClatchy special correspondent)

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