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'Harem' leader charged with rape

AN Israeli man who kept a cult-like harem of women and fathered dozens of children with them was charged in a Tel Aviv court yesterday with enslavement, rape, incest and other sexual offences.

The 25-page indictment accused 60-year-old Goel Ratzon of setting himself up as a "godlike" figure who preyed on troubled women while treating them like "chattel".

The case has captivated the Israeli public since Mr Ratzon's arrest last month. Several of the women have come forward with details of their unconventional lives, describing their attraction to the man with flowing, long white hair.

Mr Ratzon, who remains behind bars, has denied any wrongdoing and said the women joined him voluntarily.

According to the indictment, Mr Ratzon kept at least 21 women who bore him a total of 49 children. It said he kept the women in a state of near-total obedience in crowded apartments in the Tel Aviv area, taking their welfare cheques and making them take bank loans, which he then confiscated.

Mr Ratzon created an "image of an omnipotent one who was blessed with supernatural powers and the ability to heal, destroy and cast curses", the indictment said.

Some of the women have said they found him irresistible, and said in recent interviews that he connected with them spiritually.

Many of the women tattooed images of the bespectacled, Mr Ratzon with his flowing white hair on their bodies. Others tattooed his name on their neck and arms.

Police were aware of Mr Ratzon for years, but say they couldn't make any allegations stick until three women brought complaints to welfare authorities. Mr Ratzon was not legally married to the women.

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