Mar 26, 2011

Former Israeli president in tears as he is jailed for rape

Moshe Katsav: seven years in jail for rape

Moshe Katsav, Israel's former president, broke down in tears yesterday as he was sentenced to seven years in jail for rape.

The sentence, much harsher than expected, brought to an end a series of scandals that has tarnished Israel's political elite.

Katsav (65), who served as head of state from 2000 to 2007, was convicted last December of twice raping a female employee at Israel's tourism ministry and sexually harassing a subordinate who worked at the presidential residence.

A three-judge panel at Tel Aviv's district court told the former president, an immigrant from Iran, that he could expect no leniency given the severity of his crimes.

"The defendant committed the crime and, like every other person, he must bear the consequences," the judges said, according to a official transcript of the closed-door hearing. "No man is above the law."

Katsav lost control of himself and began haranguing the judges, shouting: "You are mistaken, ma'am, you are mistaken! You have committed an injustice! You allowed lies to emerge victorious."

He then turned his ire on the women who brought the charges against him, neither of whom is thought to have been in court, saying: "The women know that they lied! They know that they lied and they are laughing at the judgment."

Earlier in the trial, Katsav had turned down a plea-bargain deal that would have seen him escape prison if he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of sexual harassment.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, hailed the sentencing of his former friend and colleague in the right-wing Likud party as evidence of the country's remarkable justice system.


But many ordinary Israelis have been appalled by the culture of criminality that has seeped into the political elite. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, is on trial for corruption while Avigdor Lieberman, Mr Netanyahu's foreign minister, is under police investigation for fraud.

But Katsav's trial overshadowed the others.

The case began when Katsav suddenly complained to police five years ago that a female employee was trying to extort him. She went to police with her side of the story, and other women came forward with similar complaints of sexual assaults.

Katsav, Israel's eighth president, resigned under public pressure two weeks before his term was to end in 2007. Nobel laureate and ex-prime minister Shimon Peres was elected by parliament to succeed him.

The case's twists and salacious details has captivated the Israeli public.

In one memorably bizarre press conference while he was still in office, Katsav lashed out angrily at prosecutors and the media, accusing them of plotting his demise. He shook with anger, waved a computer disk that he said proved his innocence and screamed at reporters.

Later, he rejected a plea bargain that would have allowed him to avoid jail time.

Katsav's supporters are still holding out hope.

"The legal process is not over," said family friend Ronen Ben Menashe. "I think we would all be happy that the eighth president . . . will come out innocent in the end."

A stone-faced Katsav was accompanied by his sons yesterday, but neither his wife, Gila, nor any of his three accusers were present.

He refused to sit in the dock until the cameras left and remained stoic throughout most of the ruling, but broke down in tears upon hearing his sentence.

Katsav Attorney Zion Amir said he would appeal to the Supreme Court. (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem

Irish Independent

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