Former Israeli justice minister indicted on sexual misconduct charge

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Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was indicted today on a charge of sexual misconduct in a case that dealt a blow to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and added yet another layer of scandal to Israel's tainted leadership.

An 18-year-old female soldier has accused Ramon, 56, of forcibly kissing her at a farewell party at the Defense Ministry. Ramon has said he is innocent. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

Ramon has been a key political ally of Olmert's, and a chief supporter of his since-shelved plan to unilaterally withdraw from much of the West Bank by 2010. His resignation on Sunday from the justice minister's job came as Olmert faced intense criticism over the government's handling of the recently ended war in Lebanon. Ramon, who has remained in parliament, has waived his parliamentary immunity in the case.

The indictment was issued the same day police began questioning President Moshe Katsav in a separate sexual misconduct case, and at a time when other leading officials are under suspicion.

Olmert himself is being investigated in connection with a Jerusalem property deal. Tzahi Hanegbi, another prominent member of Olmert's Kadima party, was informed earlier this week he would be charged with fraud, bribery and perjury. And Army chief Dan Halutz has come under fire for selling his stock portfolio in the hours preceding the war. All of the men have denied any wrongdoing.

Cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit, a former justice minister, was appointed on Wednesday to replace Ramon at the Justice Ministry.