(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Embattled President Moshe Katsav's repeated protestations that he is a victim of blackmail at the hands of a former employee gained some strength Thursday evening, as investigators were building a case against the president's first accuser.
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Police are investigating claims by Katsav that one of his former employees was attempting to blackmail him, and claims by the former Beit Hanassi employee, known as A, that the president sexually harassed her, coerced her into engaging in sexual activity and, on at least two occasions, raped her.
Now, a day after police said they believed there was enough evidence against the president to press charges that would include sexual harassment, indecent assault and taking advantage of authority in order conduct sexual relations, an indictment against A also seems possible, sources close to the investigation said Thursday. The case against A is far from complete, however, and further investigation will be required before a decision will be made as to whether to indict her.
For at least the past month, Katsav's legal team has claimed to possess at least one tape that they said proves A tried to blackmail the president.
A's attorney, Kinneret Barshi, was quick to cast dispersion on that tape Thursday, even going so far as to imply that the tape had been altered to serve the president's purposes.
Earlier Thursday, Katsav accused the press of conducting a witch-hunt against him in an interview with Israel Radio, and he blamed a "band of conspirators" for driving the sexual allegations in a bid to oust him from public office.
Katsav refused to comment on the report published in Maariv Thursday morning, but he denied that the conspiracy against him included Likud party chairman, Binyamin Netanyahu.
"I was speaking about a band of conspirators behind this plot, and I did not intend to include Binyamin Netanyahu," Katsav said. Two of the women making allegations against Katsav worked with Netanyahu in the past, according to the Maariv report.
Katsav said that he had been unfairly tried and found guilty in the press, even before the investigation had concluded. He said that at least half of the women who spoke with the press alleging the president sexually harassed them, never made official complaints to the police.
"The press is leading the public pressure. Sometimes their actions even border on criminal, when false testimony is given because of the [media] pressure. Hostile media sources reached out to many young women," Katsav said.
The president told Army Radio that three of the women who made sexual harassment claims against him requested to work for him after the incidents are alleged to have taken place.
Katsav was defiant in his defense saying, "I will still be here on Passover."
Earlier, Lior Katsav, brother to the president, said that the allegations of sexual harassment emerged immediately after the president publicly stated he intended to run for the Likud leadership. He said the claims made by the women were part of a wider conspiracy to oust Moshe Katsav from politics.
"I am strong because I know the truth, and I trust that sooner or later the truth will emerge" said Katsav, expressing hope the investigation would come to an end in the near future and adding that he had no intention to resign from his post.
On Wednesday, police sources said they believed there was enough evidence to press charges against the president that would include two counts of rape and two counts of lesser sexual crimes.
Also Wednesday, an eighth woman came forward with allegations against Katsav. She alleged that during his tenure as tourism minister in the Netanyahu government Katsav harassed her and attempted to persuade her to have sexual relations with him.
Katsav told the woman, she said, that he dreamt about her at night while lying in bed with his wife, and encouraged her to wear button-down shirts and skirts at work for "easier accessibility."
Katsav's attorney Zion Amir responded to the new allegations by saying that "there are no bounds to humiliation, and no bounds to chutzpa," characterizing the woman as a disgruntled former employee.
On Tuesday, the investigative team, led by Lt.-Cmdr. Yoav Segelovich, delivered their interim report to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and State Prosecutor Eran Shendar.
Since then, at least two more women have come forward alleging that Katsav engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with them.