Ex-Israeli president sentenced to 7 years for rape

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 2:30 PM

TEL AVIV, Israel -- An Israeli court sentenced former President Moshe Katsav to seven years in prison on Tuesday for raping a former employee, capping a five-year saga that turned a working-class hero into the country's highest-ranking official ever ordered to jail.

The case has riveted Israel, sparking heated debate about equality before the law, women's rights and the role of the media. Vowing to appeal, Katsav shouted at the judges: "You have committed an injustice! The verdict is untrue. It is a lie. The lies have won!"

The court ordered Katsav, 65, to report to prison on May 8, giving him time to prepare an appeal before the Supreme Court that his attorneys said they will file promptly.

Katsav has denied the charges, but the Tel Aviv court stated unequivocally that the accusers' versions of events were far more credible. Although Israel's Supreme Court has in the past overturned high-profile convictions based on reasonable doubt, most analysts predicted an uphill struggle for Katsav.

If the Supreme Court upholds the ruling, Katsav could ask his successor, President Shimon Peres, for a pardon. But the chances there seem slim as well; on Tuesday Peres said the sentence "illustrates that in the state of Israel no one is above the law."

Public opinion in Israel has largely supported that view, although there have also been pockets of support for Katsav, with some people uncomfortable at the prospect of jailing an ex-president.

Presiding judge George Kara acknowledged that the spectacle of a former president going off to jail would be difficult, but argued that "we can't forget that the accused is not a victim but a victimizer." He said Katsav's acts harmed the public's trust in its officials and carried moral turpitude.

The Tel Aviv District Court convicted Katsav in December of raping a former employee and sexually harassing two other women who used to work for him - resulting in additional convictions for indecent acts and obstruction of justice.

The rape took place when Katsav served as tourism minister in the late 1990s, while other crimes occurred after he became president in 2000. The scathing ruling called him "manipulative" and said his testimony was riddled with lies.

The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 in Tuesday's sentencing, with the dissenting judge favoring a lesser jail term.

The ruling said Katsav's long record of public service did not factor in his favor. Rather, the court accused him of exploiting his lofty position to become a sexual offender. Katsav was also handed a two-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay fines to two of his victims.

He may also face civil action that could result in much higher fines.

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