Alleged Sexual Assault Victims Take Stand in Katsav Trial

The court was off limits to the media, and requests to have reporters present were rejected.

The trial of former president Moshe Katsav began the testimony stage Tuesday at the Tel Aviv District Court. Katsav is being tried on sexual harassment and rape charges. The first prosecution witness was a woman from the President's Residence who offered testimony against Katsav lasting seven hours.

The woman, L., like other plaintiffs against Katsav, are known by the first initial of their name in order to protect their identity.

According to the indictment, Katsav sexually harassed the witness and carried out an indecent act against her in December 2005, on the day his 60th birthday was celebrated at a party in the President's Residence.

In the indictment it states that Katsav hugged her extensively, placed his face near her neck "as if trying to smell her, for the purpose of sexual excitement."

L. fled the office upset and crying and after the event there was another, similar incident, according to the charges brought against the former president.

Katsav is also accused of having harassed L. while she served as a witness for the prosecution, and of tampering with the legal proceedings, after he allegedly inquired at the police on the content of her testimony.

A group of women representing support groups for women who had suffered sexual assault carried out a small demonstration outside the court Tuesday. Katsav arrived with a large entourage, but in the court he was accompanied only by his brother and son in law.

The court was off limits to the media, and requests to have reporters present were rejected. Tomorrow the court will hear more witnesses on behalf of the prosecution whose purpose will be to confirm L.'s testimony.

After L., H., whom the indictment says Katsav also sexually harassed, will take the witness stand.

At a later stage in the trial, A., from the Ministry of Tourism, is expected to testify on two alleged cases in which Katsav raped her and carried out an indecent act. The first case of rape allegedly occurred in April 1998 in Tel Aviv and the other in June 1998 at the Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem. Katsav has denied the charges.