Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted Wednesday of kissing a young female soldier against her will a case that riveted the country's attention and added another layer of scandal to Israel's beleaguered leadership.
The verdict was expected to clear the way for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to launch a major Cabinet shake-up.
Ramon, 56, was charged with sexual misconduct after kissing the woman, 21, at a party at the Defense Ministry on the first day of Israel's war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon last summer. Ramon, who is divorced, said the woman had flirted with him and the kiss was consensual.
"There are some lines that cannot be crossed," said Judge Hayuta Kochan, who read out the unanimous verdict by a three-judge panel. "This was not a kiss of affection. This has all the elements of sexual crime."
Ramon could face up to three years in prison. He faces sentencing on Feb. 21, Israeli media said. Ramon, who left the courthouse without commenting to reporters, is expected to appeal.
In a statement, Olmert's office said the prime minister "expressed sorrow" at Ramon's conviction.
Ramon, a member of Olmert's Kadima Party, was a key political ally of the prime minister and served as justice minister until the indictment forced him to step down last August. He has remained a member of parliament.
Ramon arrived to a chaotic scene at the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court. Hordes of reporters and TV cameras swarmed around him as he made his way to the small courtroom. With photographers snapping his picture, he sat stone-faced ahead of the verdict.
As the half-hour verdict was read, a visibly anxious Ramon held his head in his hands. After the decision, his girlfriend hugged him in support, reports AP.
The verdict said Ramon's defense was full of contradictions, and said it was obvious the young soldier was "authentic and trustworthy" and had suffered a "traumatic experience."
"We completely endorse the plaintiff's version," it said.
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