Ex-Israeli president Katsav sentenced to seven years

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, arrives for the reading of the sentence in his rape trial at a court in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, March 22. (AP Photo)
 
TEL AVIV, Israel, March 22 (AP):  An Israeli court ordered former Israeli President Moshe Katsav to prison for seven years Tuesday following a rape conviction, rejecting his attorneys' request for leniency and making him the highest-ranking Israeli official ever sentenced to jail.
The silver-haired Katsav remained stoic throughout most of the reading, but he broke down in tears upon hearing his sentence and screamed at the judges: "You made a mistake! It is a lie! The girls know it is a lie!" As he exited the courtroom, two of his grown sons scuffled with security guards. "I saw you! You hurt my boy!" Katsav screamed. His lawyers vowed to appeal.
In December, the Tel Aviv District Court convicted Katsav, 65, of raping a former employee and sexually harassing two other women who used to work for him. He also was convicted of indecent acts and obstruction of justice. The rape took place before Katsav became president in 2000, while other crimes occurred after he took office.
The three-judge panel, which ruled 2-1, said Katsav's record of public service would not be weighed in his favor, accusing him instead of exploiting his position to become a sexual offender. The court ordered him to report to prison on May 8, giving him time to prepare an appeal. He must also pay fines of about $25,000 and $7,000 to two of his victims. "The defendant committed the acts like any other person, and he must bear the punishment like any other person," Judge George Kara read from a prepared verdict. "The message leaving this courtroom has to be sharp and clear."
Tuesday's sentencing capped 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. 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.
The case has also been seen as a victory for the Israeli legal system and for women's rights in a decades-long struggle to chip away at the nation's macho culture, which once permitted political and military leaders great liberties. Outside the building, a group of women held signs with a message directed toward female victims of sex crimes, "You're not alone." The case began nearly five years ago when Katsav suddenly complained 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. The current president, Nobel winner Shimon Peres, succeeded him. Katsav repeatedly denied all allegations against him, claiming he was a victim of a political witch hunt and suggesting he was targeted because of his ethnicity. Katsav was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel as a child. The Israeli public has been riveted by the case's twists and salacious details.
In one memorably bizarre press conference Katsav lashed out angrily at prosecutors and the media for plotting his demise, shaking in anger, waving a computer disk that he said proved his innocence and screaming. Later, he rejected a plea bargain that would have allowed him to avoid jail time.