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Mati Caspi, one of Israel's leading singers and composers, was convicted of bigamy yesterday by Judge Daniel Be'eri in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court. Caspi was charged with bigamy in March 2000, following a complaint filed in 1997 by Caspi's former wife, Doreen Caspi (Lowetsky), who claimed that Caspi had remarried while living in the United States before the former couple's divorce proceedings were finalized.

Divorce proceedings between Mati and Doreen Caspi began almost 12 years ago.

Caspi's attorney, Shimon Shover, said he plans to appeal the verdict in district court and will even continue on to the Supreme Court if there is a need to do so. He said he believed that in light of the fact that Caspi's second marriage took place some eight years ago, he doesn't expect Caspi to receive a severe sentence for the offense.

The maximum penalty for bigamy in California (where Caspi committed the offense) is three years in prison; most people convicted of bigamy get between 2 months and 18 months in prison, depending on circumstances.

There was, for the most part, no controversy over the facts of the case: The main dispute revolved around the interpretation of the law. Caspi was married to Doreen in August 1975.

In 1990 he filed a request for divorce in Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court.

Three years later, while the case was still under discussion, Caspi moved to the United States, and during his stay there, he appealed to an Orthodox rabbi, Gabriel Cohen of the Beverly Hills Rabbinical Court, to grant him the divorce.

Rabbi Cohen, whose rulings are usually accepted by the Israeli rabbinical courts, wrote to the Rabbinical Court in Israel, asking them to authorize him to grant the divorce. The Israeli Court refused, adding that it thought the request inappropriate since Caspi's divorce proceedings were still under way in the Israeli courts.

Cohen nevertheless granted Caspi the divorce in 1994, and even specified in the divorce papers that Caspi was eligible for remarriage. The defendant paid Cohen $1,200 for his services.

In October 1994, after receiving the divorce papers from Cohen, Caspi married Gal Wagner in a civil ceremony in California.

The defendant claimed that he was forced to leave Israel because of the slow pace of the divorce proceedings. Moreover, he had submitted to the Israeli court evidence that proved his wife had been having an affair, but the rabbis ignored it. He added that at a certain point he had even threatened to convert to Christianity, in order to shock the Tel Aviv rabbis into action.

In his testimony, Caspi claimed that he had not been involved in the exchange of letters between Rabbi Cohen and the Israeli Rabbinical Court. He noted that he was aware that Cohen's rulings are usually acknowledged by the Israeli courts.

The defendant went on to say that Cohen was convinced of the justice of his request for a divorce. He told the court that Cohen had argued his decision to approve the divorce on grounds that his wife had committed adultery, and said that she was "using the divorce to extort him."

The defending counsel claimed that the Beverly Hills Rabbinical Court is authorized to approve the defendant's divorce, thereby clearing Caspi of the charge of bigamy.

Judge Be'eri determined yesterday that Cohen knew he had to coordinate the approval of the divorce with the rabbinical courts in Jerusalem. He also criticized Caspi in the affair. "The testimony of the defendant was not credible," wrote the judge. "It seemed he was trying to create the impression that he innocently believed in Rabbi Cohen's authority to grant him the divorce, without realizing the complexity of the situation."

"The defendant left the country to try to solve the problem of his divorce from Doreen. He was aware that his marriage to Wagner constituted a criminal offense," determined the judge.

The verdict also voiced minor criticism of the rabbinical court in Israel. The judge wrote that the courts knew of Cohen's approval of the divorce some time before Caspi remarried. "The courts should have made it clear to the defendant that he was not allowed to remarry before receiving the authorization of the courts in Israel. Such a message may possibly have prevented the defendant from committing the offense," wrote the judge.

Defense attorney Shover said he was disappointed with the verdict. "The divorce was approved by an American court," he said, "and is not under the control of the Israeli courts; the judge ignored this fact."

Mati Caspi's personal manager, David Zakai, refused to comment on the court's decision.