Ex-Israeli president jailed for rape

Jerusalem: Disgraced former president Moshe Katsav was on Tuesday sentenced to seven years in jail after being convicted of charges of rape and other sexual assault offences, making him the highest-ranking Israeli leader sent to prison.

The District Court panel also handed him two years of probation and ordered him to pay compensation of 125,000 Israeli Shekels (USD 35,000) to his two women victims who were only identified as `Aleph` and `L`.

The sentence was passed by two of the three judges in the panel. Katsav was convicted in December 2010 of rape, sexual harassment, indecent acts and obstruction of justice, following a four year old scandal that shocked the Jewish state. Katsav is the highest-ranking Israeli leader sent to prison.

`Aleph` will receive USD 28,000 while `L` will get USD 7,000.

Reading out the sentence judge George Kara observed that "the defendant committed the crime" and "like every other person he must bear the consequences."

"No one is above law," the judge said, adding due to the severity of the crime, the punishment must be clear and precise.

The ruling ended the trial that lasted 18 months during which harrowing accusations were made in the court, depicting Katsav as a sexual predator who routinely harassed his female staff.

The former head of state was accused of twice raping `Aleph` during his term as tourism minister and sexually assaulting two other women, while he was a president.

An unrepentant 65-year-old Katsav shouted "this is a victory of lies" as the sentence was read out and vowed to go in appeal. He has 45-days to appeal against his sentence.

The former President broke down in tears upon hearing the judges decision, saying " they are wrong. They made a serious mistake. it will be proven. The lie won today, you will all see."

"The women know that they lied. I was not given a chance to defend myself…you kept interrupting my testimony", he added.

Katsav was forced to resign as president and hand over the reigns to his political rival Shimon Peres.

The former President will begin serving his sentence on May 8, 2011 after his lawyers struck a deal with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to give him a month and a half to prepare for his prison term.

In December, the Tel Aviv District Court judges, George Karra, Judith Shevach and Miriam Sokolov, handed down a unanimous verdict on the Katsav case convicting him of charges of sexual offences.

"The crime of rape damages and destroys a person`s soul…Due to the severity of the crime, the punishment must be clear and precise," the judges said.

"The defendant committed the crime and like every other person, he must bear the consequences. No man is above the law," they added.

Katsav was convicted of raping and sexually assaulting A, a former employee of the Tourism Ministry while he was the minister.

He was also found guilty of sexually harassing H. and of sexually abusing and harassing L. from the President?s Residence and obstruction of justice.

The year-long trial took place almost entirely behind closed doors and left the public wondering whether the 65-year-old former Israeli leader was wise to drop out of a plea bargain two years ago.

The plea deal meant Katsav would not face the most serious charges and promised him a suspended sentence at worse, but the former president decided to prove his innocence in court.

"I am not vengeful, but I think the court should send a message. Regardless of how many years he spends in prison, (Katsav) will always be a villain, victim A. was quoted by her associates as telling Ynetnews.

"The number of years (sentence) is not the issue here, but the harsh verdict, which proved that Katsav committed these despicable acts and raped me," she said.

Women organisations surrounded the court shouting slogans against the former Israeli President and urging the judges to handover a severe judgement.