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A gag order was lifted yesterday on the opening statements made on the first day of former president Moshe Katsav's trial last Tuesday.

The trial is being held behind closed doors at the Tel Aviv District Court to protect the identities of the complainants.

Katsav faces charges of rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment of three female employees, first as tourism minister and then as president.

Prosecutor Ronit Amiel told the court that Katsav waged a "campaign of intimidation and fear" against the women, and against potential witnesses in the trial.

"The prosecution will present evidence to convince the court that the accused took advantage of his high public office and his status as minister and president to assault and sexually harass those under his charge, whom he chose with great care," she said.

"The prosecution will present evidence to the court showing that the defendant displayed a pattern of behavior over several years, of seduction and pursuit, and used all of his abilities to bring his female employees closer to him, take an interest in them, compliment them and give each of them the feeling of being 'chosen' by the boss.

"At the same time, for the sake of caution, the defendant employed mechanisms for silencing [the employees] and sought to ensure that silence, lest any of them decide that she would indeed speak out," Amiel said. "The goal of the defendant's methodical actions was to obtain the complainants' acquiescence in the acts he was committing against them."

The prosecutor said Katsav's profile is far from that of the horror-film rapist: "The defendant is not a rapist in a dark alley with a knife. There was usually no need for physical force. His lofty position was enough to enable him to behave this way."

However, she continued, when he felt physical force was needed "to achieve that acquiescence and at the same time to maintain [the employee's] silence, he did not hesitate to apply such force as well."

The prosecutor said that Katsav's lofty position, the intensity with which he pursued his goal, and the wide discrepancy in status between him and his victims all led the complainants to "reject the defendant in a polite, considerate way - clearly, but always being careful to preserve his honor. None of the complainants wanted to sound the alarm, none of them wanted to endanger their jobs or positions. None thought she could refuse his acts and nonetheless remain in her job."

Amiel also told Judges George Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevach that State Prosecutor Moshe Lador is "an integral part of the prosecution of this case. He personally oversaw the process of examining the material and forming conclusions on the case."

She added that Lador might ask to participate in some of the hearings.

Following the prosecutor's remarks, Katsav's attorney, Avigdor Feldman, told the court that "there is an attempt on the part of the prosecution - which I have already told them we will firmly oppose - to demonize the defendant. This demonization is expressed in [comments about Katsav's] supposedly systematic behavior, in remarks about 'mechanisms' [and] 'force,' and in statements about the complainants being submissive and yielding."

Feldman also said the prosecution feels a need "to provide the witnesses with crutches, such as bringing in a psychiatrist to explain why the complainants are so 'pathetic,' and why complainants in sex crime cases seek to be close to the 'rapist' and write him letters."