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Former Israeli President Katsav gets 7 years in rape case

The tearful politician tells judges, 'It's a lie,' and storms out of court. Other charges include sexual harassment and obstruction of justice.

March 23, 2011|By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav is surrounded by security personnel and relatives as he leaves court after his sentencing.
Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav is surrounded by security personnel… (Amir Cohen / Reuters )

Reporting from Jerusalem — Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison for rape, sexual harassment and obstruction of justice, capping an emotionally charged trial that many Israelis viewed as a national embarrassment.

The Tel Aviv panel of judges who found Katsav guilty in December said their seven-year sentence was intended to show that no one is above the law in Israel and that rape is a serious crime.

"The defendant is a symbol," Judge George Karra said as he read the sentence. "The fact that Katsav committed the acts while serving in a high-ranking post is reason to judge him severely.... The higher the rank, the greater the disappointment."

The justice said that rape is a crime that "ruins souls" and that sexual harassment by Katsav "trampled the dignity" of female government employees who brought the complaint against him.

Katsav, who was forced from office in 2007 over the charges, could have received as little as four years or as much as 20 years, legal experts estimated. He is scheduled to begin his prison term May 8.

As the sentence was read in court, a shaken and tearful Katsav lashed out at the judges, shouting: "It's a lie. You're wrong. The girls know they lied." He stormed out of the court building with his sons, past a group of female protesters picketing in support of the victims.

Katsav's attorneys vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.

An attorney for one of the victims expressed satisfaction.

"The punishment suits the gravity of the acts," the attorney, Danny Srur, told Israel's Channel 1. "There is no doubt that [my client] feels a sense of relief and satisfaction." His client, who was raped, and two victims of sexual harassment involved in the case were not named in court or by Israeli media.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the verdict as an example of Israel's independent legal system.

"This is a day of sadness and shame, but it is also a day of deep appreciation and pride for the Israeli justice system," he said. "The court issued a sharp and unequivocal ruling on the simple principle of equality before the law. Nobody is above the law, not even a former president."

Katsav, 65, will become Israel's highest-ranking politician to serve prison time, but his case was only one of numerous government corruption and misconduct investigations in recent years. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is standing trial on fraud and bribery charges arising from real estate deals. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is expected to be indicted soon on money laundering charges and has been investigated in various cases over more than a decade.

The Katsav scandal broke in July 2006, when the then-president alleged he was being blackmailed by a former employee. But investigators eventually turned their focus to Katsav after several other women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.

Katsav rejected a plea bargain that would have allowed him to avoid prison by pleading guilty to lesser charges.

As part of Tuesday's sentence, he was ordered to pay about $27,000 to the former Tourism Ministry employee he raped, and about $7,000 to the other two women. The rape victim is planning to file a civil suit for punitive damages, Israeli news reports said.

Michal Rozin, executive director of the Assn. of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said the sentence should embolden rape victims to come forward without fear.

"I hope the conviction and sentence conveys to victims that they are believed and that they are heard," he said.

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

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