JERUSALEM - Israel's attorney general said yesterday that he would charge President Moshe Katsav with raping a former office assistant and sexually harassing three other employees in the president's office.
The unprecedented scandal against Israel's ceremonial head of state ends a six-month investigation that has both titillated and shocked Israelis, a nation where the sexual exploits of leaders have usually been ignored and sexual harassment is rarely taken seriously.
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced that he had enough evidence to indict Katsav, 60, on charges of rape, sexual harassment, obstruction of justice, and breach of trust, crimes that could bring a sentence of 20 years in prison.
Mazuz did not immediately file charges, saying that he would first allow a special hearing for Katsav's lawyers to present evidence, a courtesy allowed under Israeli law.
Katsav has denied any wrongdoing, saying that he is a victim of political persecution. His lawyers said that they were sure that Mazuz would change his mind about pressing charges after the special hearing, which is expected in the next two months.
"We believe that this case is full of holes," defense attorney Zion Amir said.
Israel's president has little political power but is vested with a large symbolic role as the apolitical face of this image-conscious and tightly knit nation.
Public reaction to the attorney general's news was harsh, with parliamentarians of all stripes calling for Katsav to step down and avoid an embarrassing impeachment.
Katsav enjoys immunity while in office and could be tried only after his resignation, his impeachment by three-quarters of the parliament, or the end of his term in July.
The case is only one in a string of scandals engulfing Israel's top politicians.
Earlier in the week, Mazuz launched a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's involvement in the sale of a government-controlled bank two years ago. Also, Justice Minister Haim Ramon is on trial, accused of sexually harassing a female soldier.
The Iranian-born Katsav was appointed president in 2000 after a long career in politics allied with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He is seen as a trailblazer for the nation's Sephardic Jews because he helped break Israel's political old-boys' network dominated by European-born Jews.
His scandal began in July, when he told the attorney general that he was being blackmailed by a female employee who, he said, was falsely accusing him of sexual wrongdoing.
The subsequent police investigation uncovered what prosecutors have described as sexually predatory behavior by Katsav against his secretaries and female assistants throughout his political career.