An Israeli court convicted former president Moshe Katsav on two counts of rape, in what the prime minister called “a sad day for Israel.”
Katsav was also convicted of sexual harassment and committing indecent acts. The charges relate to the time when Katsav served as president and tourism minister and were based on accusations brought by former employees. Katsav, who can appeal the ruling, had claimed his innocence and accused prosecutors of maligning his character. The minimum rape sentence is four years.
“The court today delivered two clear messages, one being that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and the second the right of every woman to be in control of her own body,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a text message.
Katsav stepped down as president, a mainly ceremonial position, in January 2007 after Attorney General Menachem Mazuz first said there was evidence for an indictment. Shimon Peres, the former Israeli prime minister who shared the Nobel Prize for pursuing peace with the Palestinians, succeeded Katsav as president.
“This is the most serious crime brought against an Israeli government official,” Oren Gazal-Ayal, an expert in criminal law at Haifa University, said by phone. “These charges are much harsher than any of the white-collar crimes we have seen in the past.”
Since 2008, Israeli courts have indicted former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for fraud, sentenced former Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson to five years imprisonment for theft and money laundering, and convicted former Health Minister Shlomo Benizri of taking bribes.
The three-judge panel today said in its verdict that the testimony of one of the witnesses, who has only been identified as “A,” was trustworthy and reliable, and said that Katsav’s version of events was not credible.
The verdict said Katsav twice raped a woman who worked for him while he was tourism minister. It also described inappropriate hugs, phone calls and comments he made to others who worked for him while he was president.
Gazal-Ayal said that while the former president can appeal his conviction, the Tel Aviv District Court’s decision was factual, there are few legal issues at stake and the Supreme Court may not agree to hear the case.
Katsav was elected to the Knesset in 1977 as a member of the Likud Party and served as a lawmaker until he became president in 2000.
Katsav was the second Israeli president in a row to leave office prematurely. Ezer Weizman stepped down in 2000 following revelations that he received money from business associates without reporting it to the authorities.
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