JERUSALEM, April 16 (JTA) – Israeli police are recommending that Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordechai be charged with three counts of sexual assault.
Mordechai, who took voluntary leave from the post when the investigation was opened last month, could face a seven-year jail term if convicted.
The police allegations issued Sunday – of “debased acts carried out with force” – are stronger than a sexual harassment charge.
The recommendations followed a police probe launched after a 23- year-old female employee in Mordechai’s office accused him last month of repeatedly assaulting her and making sexual propositions.
Her charges were followed by accusations against Mordechai by other women, dating back to his years in the military.
One woman said Mordechai assaulted her in 1996, when he was defense minister. Another filed a complaint over an alleged 1992 incident, when Mordechai was head of the Israel Defense Force’s northern command.
Police said the statute of limitations had expired in more claims filed by other women.
In a statement, Mordechai continued to maintain his innocence. He said he hoped prosecutors would dismiss the police recommendations, but that he was ready to go to court if they did not.
A decision by the attorney general to charge Mordechai would not only sully the image of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s government, but would also hinder Barak’s efforts to get support for his peace moves, when and if significant progress is made on the Syrian and Palestinian tracks.
Mordechai, a political moderate, was viewed as a supporter of the peace process in a Barak Cabinet that includes hawks.
Moreover, Mordechai’s problems have provided fodder for Barak’s opponents. The prime minister had promised a clean government during his election campaign.
Along with Mordechai, police recommended indicting Mordechai’s driver and the head of the minister’s Tel Aviv office for obstruction of justice.
The two are suspected of trying to convince the 23-year-old employee not to file a complaint against the minister.
The Mordechai scandal is the latest in a series of scandals involving political figures.
Earlier this year, police recommended that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Police are continuing to investigate the finances of nonprofit organizations that worked in Barak’s campaign last year.
Citing insufficient evidence and the expiration of the statue of limitations, police earlier this month recommended closing an investigation of President Ezer Weizman for cash gifts he received from a millionaire friend while serving as a Knesset member and Cabinet minister.
The attorney general is due to make a final decision, but Weizman has already hinted he may step down from his post before his term ends in 2003.