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April 16, 2000 06:52am
Israeli Police Recommend Indicting Yitzhak Mordechai on Sexual Assault Charges
Source: AP
by: Dina Kraft

(JERUSALEM) -- Police recommended Sunday that Yitzhak Mordechai, a key figure in Ehud Barak's elections victory last year and a senior minister in his government, face sexual assault charges.

In the latest in a series of scandals to rock Israel's political establishment, police said they had evidence that Mordechai had forced himself on three women, at least one of whom was a subordinate.

The allegations of "debased acts carried out with force" - in effect, sexual assault - are tougher than the sexual harassment accusations originally made last month by a 23-year-old subordinate at Mordechai's Transport ministry.

Police handed the recommendations to prosecutors, who must now decide whether to indict.

In a published statement, Mordechai continued to maintain his innocence, and said that he hoped prosecutors would choose to dismiss the accusations. Even if they didn't, he said, he was ready to go to court - "the police recommendations are only the beginning of the road, not its end," he said.

He said he would ask the parliament to suspend the immunity he enjoys as a legislator should prosecutors decide to indict.

Mordechai suspended himself from his duties pending the investigation's outcome at the time the allegations surfaced, and. Barak assumed his responsibilities.

The Transport Ministry employee's allegations launched a flood of similar accusations from women who had worked with Mordechai throughout his career as an army general, and then as a populist politician.

Focusing on two of those allegations, police said they found credible evidence that one woman was assaulted by Mordechai in his home in 1996 during his term as defense minister, and the other woman was assaulted in his home in 1992 while he headed the northern command. It was unclear if those women were also subordinates.

Mordechai, 55, a career officer before entering politics and currently head of the small Center Party, ran for prime minister last spring. He showed promise in early polls, but on the eve of the elections - when it was clear that the vote was split between challenger Barak and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - he pulled out and endorsed Barak. The endorsement helped swing voters to the challengers, and Barak won handily.

As defense minister, Mordechai was a peace process moderate in Netanyahu's hard-line government. He was favored by Clinton administration officials - especially Secretary of State Madeleine Albright - as the most approachable Israeli minister.

He had wide popular support, based partly on a military career marked with episodes of daring and courage, and on his ethnic origins - he was the first Jew of Middle Eastern origin to be seriously considered as a prime ministerial contender.

Netanyahu, increasingly suspecting that Mordechai was undermining him, sacked him in January 1999. Mordechai immediately launched his Center Party bid, and delivered his first mortal wound to Netanyahu's chances for re-election in a televised debate, where he made Netanyahu's credibility the issue.

Mordechai is only one of a panoply of top Israeli officials embroiled in scandals.

There was no immediate danger to Barak's coalition, nor to the peace process. The Center Party is solidly for negotiations with Israel's Arab neighbors.

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