Israel stunned as former leader faces jail for rape
Moshe Katsav, the former president of Israel, was convicted yesterday of twice raping an employee when he was a cabinet minister in a case that has shocked the nation.
It is the most serious criminal charge ever to be brought against a high-ranking official in Israel.
Katsav (65) faces up to 16 years in prison having been found guilty of the two counts of rape against an employee in 1998 when he was tourism minister and counts of indecent acts and sexual harassment involving two other women who worked for him when he was president.
Katsav served as a minister in several right-wing Likud governments before he was elected president in 2000.
He denied the rape charges, claiming he was a victim of a political witch hunt because he comes from Israel's Sephardic community.
Katsav, a father of five, was ordered to surrender his passport while awaiting sentencing. His lawyers said they would appeal.
The conviction capped a long saga that stunned Israelis since it broke in 2006. The then-president initially complained that a female employee was blackmailing him but the woman went to police with her side of the story, and that prompted other women to come forward.
According to the indictment, Katsav forced one woman to the floor of his office at the Tourism Ministry in 1998 and raped her.
Later that year, he summoned her to a Jerusalem hotel to go over paperwork and raped her on the bed in his room. The indictment alleged that Katsav tried to calm his victim by saying: "Relax, you'll enjoy it."
The indictment also alleged that he harassed two women during his term as president, embracing them against their will and making unwanted sexual comments.
On Katsav's 60th birthday in 2005, an assistant offered congratulations. He then hugged her at length, sniffing her neck, according to the indictment. Katsav later tried to persuade her to change her testimony, earning him an additional charge of obstruction of justice.
The conviction was praised as a victory for Israel's legal system and for women's rights.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, said: "The court sent two clear and sharp messages: that everyone is equal and every woman has the full right to her body." He called the verdict a sad day for Israel.
Katsav resigned in 2007, under a plea bargain that would have required him to admit to lesser charges of sexual misconduct. But in April 2009, he rejected the deal and vowed to clear his name in court. (© Daily Telegraph, London)