Israel — A court convicted former Justice Minister Haim Ramon on Wednesday of kissing a female soldier against her will - a case that riveted the country's attention and added another layer of scandal to Israel's beleaguered leadership.
The verdict was expected to clear the way for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to launch a major Cabinet shake-up.
Ramon, 56, was charged with sexual misconduct after kissing the 21-year-old woman at a party at the Defense Ministry on the first day of Israel's war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon last summer.
Ramon, who is divorced, said the woman had flirted with him and that the kiss was consensual.
"There are some lines that cannot be crossed," said Judge Hayuta Kochan, who read the unanimous verdict by a three-judge panel. "This was not a kiss of affection. This has all the elements of sexual crime."
Ramon could face up to three years in prison. His sentencing will be Feb. 21, Israeli media said. Ramon, who left the courthouse without commenting, is expected to appeal.
A member of Olmert's Kadima Party, Ramon was a key political ally of the prime minister and served as justice minister until the indictment forced him to step down in August. He has remained a member of parliament.