Israeli President's home raided as police examine rape claim

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The Independent Online

Israeli police have raided the official residence of President Moshe Katsav and taken away computers and documents in connection with sexual harassment allegations.

Detectives will question the 60-year-old today under caution after a female former employee accused him of forcing her to have sexual relations with him.

The President, a Likud politician whose family migrated to Israel from Iran when he was five, could be charged with rape. Police are planning to confront him with the complainant, who is reported to have passed a lie-detector test. They hope to glean more evidence from the computer and papers.

Israeli media predicted yesterday that Mr Katsav, who has five children, would have to resign if he faces charges. The former Deputy Prime Minister unexpectedly defeated the elder statesman Shimon Peres for the presidency, a largely ceremonial role, in 2000 and his term has one more year to run. He was planning to return to active politics in Likud and perhaps even to run for the premiership. Mr Katsav has claimed his relations with female staff were purely professional. But a second woman has also accused him of sexual harassment.

His office said he would co-operate with the police. Mr Katsav brought the investigation on himself two months ago by handing the Attorney-General, Menachem Mazuz, a letter accusing the former employee of trying to blackmail him into finding her a new job. The police called her in for questioning, at which stage she spelled out her story.

In a separate case of alleged high-level sexual harassment, Haim Ramon resigned this week as the Justice Minister after he was indicted for allegedly forcing a kiss on a woman soldier who worked in the Prime Minister's office. He was charged with indecent assault and could face up to three years in prison.

Mr Ramon, a former leading member of the Labour Party, defected to the centre-right Kadima after it was launched by Ariel Sharon last November. He was an outspoken supporter of the Gaza disengagement a year ago and of a future withdrawal from most West Bank settlements - a proposal that Ehud Olmert said had been officially "put on hold" after the Lebanese conflict.

The Prime Minister is expected to appoint a stand-in Justice Minister so that Mr Ramon can return to his post if he is acquitted. Mr Ramon waived parliamentary immunity and asked for an early trial.

Another of Mr Olmert's allies, Tzahi Hanegbi, is awaiting trial on charges of election bribery. He is alleged to have given government jobs to 80 Likud members, their friends or relatives, when he served as Environment Minister in 2001-03, in return for support in his old party's primaries.

Mr Olmert is also being investigated following allegations by a reporter that he received a discount worth half a million dollars in return for helping a contractor who sold him a flat. Mr Olmert is said to have used his connections as the city's former mayor to persuade planning authorities to double the amount of floor space the developer was allowed to build on.

Micha Lindenstrauss, the State Comptroller, is investigating, but denied he had summoned Mr Olmert or his wife, Aliza, for questioning. The case has not yet been sent to the police. He dismissed earlier allegations of irregularities in the sale of another house.

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