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Former president Moshe Katsav will be charged with several serious sexual offenses, including rape, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced Sunday. The decision ushers in a new phase of a legal drama that has dragged on for almost three years.

The indictment charges Katsav with two counts of raping A., who worked at the Tourism Ministry from March 1998 to January 1999, when Katsav was tourism minister. One rape allegedly took place in the minister's office in Tel Aviv and the other at a hotel in Jerusalem. Katsav will also be charged with forcible indecent assault against A. and abusing the employer-employee relationship.

In addition, Katsav will be charged with lesser offenses against two employees of the President's Residence - H., whom he allegedly hugged repeatedly against her will, and L., whom he allegedly hugged and kissed on the neck against her will. Mazuz has not yet decided exactly what Katsav will be charged with in these cases, but a draft indictment dating from May 2007 accused him of indecent assault and sexual harassment against both women.

In L.'s case, Katsav will also be charged with obstruction of justice, because when the investigation began, Katsav asked L. for details of her police interrogation and even tried to influence her statement.

Police began investigating Katsav in the summer of 2006, and in January 2007, Mazuz announced he intended to charge Katsav with rape. At a subsequent hearing with Katsav's attorneys, however, Mazuz was convinced that there were serious problems with the evidence. He therefore decided instead to sign a plea bargain with Katsav that included comparatively mild sexual offenses such as indecent assault and sexual harassment.

The plea bargain, signed in June 2007, was promptly challenged in the High Court of Justice, which upheld it February 2008. But then, last April, Katsav withdrew from the plea bargain, sparking a year of wrangling within the prosecution as to whether the evidence was sufficient for an indictment at all, and if so, on what charges.

Attorney Irit Baumhorn, who was in charge of the case for the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office, thought Katsav should be charged with raping A. from the Tourism Ministry, and also wanted to include charges relating to another complainant named A. who worked under Katsav at the President's Residence. In contrast, Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel said the evidence for rape was very problematic and the chances of securing a conviction were slim.

To resolve this dispute, Mazuz sent the case to the Tel Aviv District Attorney's Office for a second opinion, and attorneys there asked the police to fill in some holes in the investigation. This included staging a confrontation between Katsav and A. from the Tourism Ministry last December.

Ultimately, Tel Aviv attorneys Ronit Amiel and Nissim Merom - who will be prosecuting the case in court - sided with Abarbanel, saying the evidence was very problematic and the chances of securing a rape conviction were slim. However, Mazuz and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador decided to overrule them and include the rape charges.

A legal source said the decision was made after Lador met with A. from the Tourism Ministry. Their conversation convinced him that she was telling the truth, the source said, so he decided the court should be given a chance to rule.

However, the two upheld the decision not to include charges relating to A. from the President's Residence. She was the original complainant in the case, but Mazuz found her testimony problematic from the start and omitted her entirely from the plea bargain signed in 2007.

The source also rejected criticism of how long it has taken Mazuz to make a decision, saying that in light of the questions that arose regarding the evidence in the case, the lengthy review and the supplementary police investigation were necessary.

The indictment will be submitted shortly, as soon as Mazuz and Lador finalize the exact charges to be filed regarding L. and H. and the list of prosecution witnesses. They have also not yet decided which district court to file the charges in - Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.