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Lawyer fears ex-Israeli president is suicidal

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By DANIEL ESTRIN
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 10:59 AM

JERUSALEM -- Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav is so distraught over an impending prison sentence for rape that he is at risk of committing suicide, his lawyer said Thursday.

Defense attorney Zion Amir told The Associated Press that Katsav - who denies all wrongdoing - thinks his conviction and sentencing to seven years in prison was a grave injustice.

Amir noted Katsav's "frustration, pain and despair," and when asked whether the former president might take his own life, the attorney replied: "I had a strong foreboding about that when they were reading the sentence."

Amir's assessment was the first glimpse of Katsav's state of mind since Tuesday's sentencing. In the past, he has declined to reply when asked if he feared for Katsav's life.

The former president, who was convicted in December of raping a former employee, sexually harassing two other women, as well as committing indecent acts and obstruction of justice, is due to enter prison on May 8. His defense team plans to appeal the sentence.

At Tuesday's sentencing, the 65-year-old Katsav broke down in tears and screamed at the judges: "You have committed an injustice! The verdict is untrue. It is a lie. The lies have won!"

Katsav is Israel's highest-ranking official ever sentenced to prison. The judges called him "manipulative" and said he lied in his testimony.

The rape occurred when he served as tourism minister in the 1990s, and other crimes were committed after he became president in 2000.

The scandal marked a dramatic fall from grace for a man who rose from humble beginnings to become a symbol of success for Mizrahi Jews, or those of Middle Eastern descent, who for years were an underclass in Israel.

In one of the more bizarre developments in the case, Katsav accused prosecutors and the media of plotting his demise and accused them of being out to destroy him because he didn't belong to the country's European-descended elite. Shaking with anger, he waved a computer disk that he said proved his innocence and screamed at reporters.

He resigned under pressure two weeks before the end of his term in 2007 and in a dramatic reversal, rejected a plea bargain that would have allowed him to escape jail time.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial office, typically filled by a respected elder statesman who is capable of rising above politics and unifying the country.

Katsav was succeeded by Nobel laureate and ex-prime minister Shimon Peres.


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