Israeli president to avoid rape charges, jail time

Israeli authorities have decided to drop plans to pursue rape charges against Israeli President Moshe Katsav in a surprising plea bargain, Israeli media reported Thursday.

Katsav, who faces allegations of raping and sexually assaulting several of his female workers, would admit only to minor harassment charges and avoid any jail time, the reports said.

No official confirmation was available pending an official announcement expected later Thursday.

In January, Attorney General Meni Mazuz notified Katsav that he intended to press charges of rape, sexual assault and fraud based on allegations by four women who used to work for him.

His accusers worked with him either in the president's office or when he was tourism minister in the late 1990s. At least one has said he threatened to make sure she never got another job if she refused to have sex with him in his office.

An admission of guilt, however minor, would mark a turnaround for Katsav, who has denied all charges and repeatedly claimed he was being framed. But escaping the more serious allegations and avoiding prison time would mean a victory for Katsav.

Kinneret Barashi, a lawyer for one of the complainants against Katsav, slammed the reported deal.

The plea bargain is a "message to the public, which says something simple: As long as you're a public figure, and you're suspected of sex crimes, your road is open, and the State Attorney's office will give up on doing justice in the case," Barashi told Israel's Channel 2 TV.

Barashi's client appealed to Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday morning to stop the announcement of the plea bargain "before she has been given a chance to express her position in an orderly way as is required by law," according to Nissim Duek, a spokesman for the woman. It was not immediately clear if the appeal would delay the announcement. The woman has not been publicly identified.

Katsav's attorney, Zion Amir, said Katsav had not initially wanted to admit anything.

"We had a very hard time convincing the President to admit even such a minor act, certainly relative to the original accusations," Amir told Army Radio.

Katsav's term is scheduled to end next month, but he already has suspended himself. He will be replaced by Shimon Peres, Israel's elder statesman, elected to the ceremonial post two weeks ago.