Israeli deputy premier Yitzhak Mordechai has submitted his resignation after he was charged on three counts of sexual assault, officials said Sunday.
Mordechai, the first Israeli minister to face sex charges and quit over them, sent a letter of resignation to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, which was read out at Sunday's cabinet meeting, the premier's office said.
In his letter, Mordechai, who was also transportation minister, said he was "obliged to resign by force of circumstances" but intended to "fight to prove his innocence," state-run public radio said.
The case is the latest in a string of scandals to dog Israel's political elite.
It was also announced Sunday that President Ezer Weizman will step down July 10 after narrowly avoiding judicial proceedings on corruption and tax fraud charges.
But Mordechai's case is also a blow to the rickety 10-month-old coalition as it grapples with the aftermath of Wednesday's final pullout from Lebanon and struggles to revive its ties with Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, analysts said.
Attorney General Eliyakim Rubinstein is to start judicial proceedings against Mordechai for three cases of sexual assault, the justice ministry said last week.
The Iraqi-born Mordechai, 55, temporarily stood down from his post as transportation minister after the investigation was launched in early March following an initial complaint by a 23-year-old employee in his office.
Mordechai was initially accused by the employee of locking her in his office, throwing her to the ground and groping her, a complaint that led to further allegations.
A second women was allegedly assaulted by Mordechai in November 1996 when he served as defense minister and a third accuser was a woman soldier under his command while he was the army's chief northern commander in October 1992.
Mordechai, who also holds the post of deputy prime minister, has insisted on his innocence but is on record as having promised to resign if prosecutors went ahead with an indictment.
His Centre Party, which has four seats in parliament, was formed by Mordechai after he was sacked as defence minister by Netanyahu in January 1998.
His political career began in earnest in 1995 after he was passed over for promotion in the army.
He became the first Sephardic Jew of Middle Eastern origin to make a credible stand for prime minister in last year's election campaign but dropped out to make way for a two-man race between Barak and Netanyahu.
He was divorced from his first wife in the early 1990s and married a second time, to his former secretary, in 1997 – OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
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