By Mazal Mualem and Nir Hasson, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and Agencies
Former justice minister Haim Ramon was found guilty of indecent behavior at Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Wednesday afternoon, for having kissed a young woman soldier against her will.
Ramon, who could face up to three years in prison, left the courthouse without commenting to reporters, but the former minister announced later Wednesday that he intends to appeal.
The three-judge panel delivered a unanimous verdict, writing: "The complainant's account is the absolute truth."
"Ramon, however, did not stick to the truth, exaggerated the part played by the complainant and distorted the facts in a sophisticated and savvy way," wrote judges Hayuta Kochan, Daniela Cherizli and Daniel Beeri.
They said that, "The version that he presented did not stand up to the tests of reason and common sense, nor were they supported by evidence."
"There are some lines that cannot be crossed," said Kochan, who read out the verdict. "This was not a kiss of affection. This has all the elements of sexual crime."
Ramon came under heavy criticism from the judges, who wrote that his behavior was not "an honest mistake, rather indifference to the wishes of the complainant." The reliability of his accuser, however, "was never in question."
The judges said that Ramon "tried to distance himself from the event and from anything that could have embroiled him" in the affair. "He had no qualms about slandering the complainant... The defense produced witnesses whose sole target was to blacken the complainant's name."
The panel expressed the hope that the trial and the accusations hurled against the complainant would not discourage other victims of sexual crimes from coming forward.
The hearing on Ramon's sentencing will take place on February 21, Channel 2 television said.
Ramon was charged last August with indecent behavior for having kissed H., the complainant, on July 12, the day the second Lebanon war began.
Journalists were prevented from taking cell phones and beepers into the courtroom. Instead, a court spokesman emerged to announce the verdict to the waiting press.
Both sides agreed that H., who was finishing her army service, asked to be photographed hugging Ramon. According to the indictment, she then tried to leave, but "the defendant continued to embrace her body with one hand and drew her near. With the other hand, he grasped her cheeks, turned her face toward him and pressed his lips to her lips, while inserting his tongue into her mouth, all without her consent."
Ramon admitted to the kiss, but claimed that it was the natural outcome of a lengthy flirtation that H. conducted with him. He also claimed that the kiss was mutual, not something he forced upon the complainant.
The prosecution had argued that the two had no prior acquaintance and that nothing in H.'s behavior implied that she wanted Ramon to kiss her. It also claimed that a kiss between a young woman and a 56-year-old minister, minutes before a cabinet vote to go to war, is normatively problematic.
During the trial, there was a factual disagreement over when the kiss occurred: H. claimed that it happened immediately after the photograph, before they left the room, while Ramon said that it took place a few minutes later, after the two had left the room and then returned to it. The judges will have to decide on this issue.
The most important question facing the judges, however, was whether Ramon could or should have known that H. did not want to be kissed. The prosecution claimed that Ramon never even asked himself what she wanted.
Ramon argued that the conversation that preceded the photograph and the hug that H. gave him during the photograph led him to believe that she wanted him to kiss her, and therefore, the kiss was not a crime.
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