Court to Sentence Moshe Katsav Today

Former president faces up to 16 years for two counts of rape, sexual assault.

Former President Moshe Katsav will be sentenced today for two counts of rape and various other sexual offenses.

The prosecution has asked the Tel Aviv District Court to sentence him to substantial jail time. But even if the court does so, he will not begin serving his sentence immediately, as he and the prosecutors previously reached an agreement to defer the start of his sentence by a month.

Moshe Katsav - Ilan Assayag
Ilan Assayag

At that point, he may ask for a further delay, until the Supreme Court rules on the appeal he plans to file.

Katsav was convicted of two counts of rape and one of forcible sexual assault against A., who worked under him when he was tourism minister. He was also convicted of both sexually harassing and sexually assaulting L., who worked at the President's Residence, and of sexually harassing H., another employee of the President's Residence.

In addition, he was found guilty of obstructing justice. The three-judge panel convicted him unanimously and harshly criticized his conduct.

Nevertheless, the judges also hinted in their verdict that the media's massive coverage of the case, which they termed "a kind of kangaroo court," might constitute grounds for leniency - even though they also criticized Katsav's use of the media.

The maximum sentence for rape is 16 years in prison. In theory, Katsav could receive a longer sentence than that, since he was also convicted of several other crimes. Usually, courts order the sentences for all crimes of which a defendant is convicted to be served concurrently, meaning the total sentence is unlikely to exceed whatever sentence he receives for the rape charge.

In addition to seeking jail time, the prosecution also asked the court to fine Katsav and order him to compensate his victims. By law, the maximum compensation the court can award each victim is NIS 258,000. However, the victims could also file civil suits against Katsav, which would enable them to obtain much higher damages.

Another employee of the President's Residence known as A., who also filed a police complaint against Katsav but was ultimately not included in the indictment, has already announced that she plans to sue him. The other complainants are considering this option as well, but some may find the way blocked because the statute of limitations has already expired.

Prosecutors have also asked the court to rule that Katsav's crimes involved moral turpitude. If the court agrees, that would bar Katsav from holding public office in the future and also strip him of certain financial benefits to which he would normally be entitled as a former president.

Before the case went to trial, Katsav had negotiated a plea bargain with the prosecution that would have spared him both the rape conviction and jail time, and during those negotiations, he treated the issue of moral turpitude as a crucial one. Ultimately, however, he backed out of the deal anyway, deciding he would rather try to obtain an acquittal in court.

The prosecution agreed at the sentencing hearing that the media coverage of the case constituted a reason for leniency, though only to a "moderate" degree. However, it vehemently objected to another argument made by Katsav's lawyers - that the loss of his lofty position also constituted grounds for leniency.

His position of power, prosecutors noted, is precisely what enabled him to commit his crimes. Moreover, they argued, the principle of equality before the law demands that a former president not receive a lesser sentence than any other rapist.

Katsav's attorneys asked the court to refrain from sentencing him to jail time, saying the damage he has suffered since the complaints were first filed is a harsh punishment in and of itself. Katsav himself did not speak at the sentencing hearing, which many criminals use as a venue for expressing remorse.

Once the sentence is handed down, Katsav will have 45 days to appeal both conviction and sentence to the Supreme Court. At that point, he can ask the Supreme Court to defer the start of his sentence until it rules on the appeal, but the court is not obligated to acquiesce, and often does not.

The Supreme Court generally does not intervene in lower courts' findings regarding the credibility of witnesses. That complicates Katsav's appeal, since the verdict was based largely on the district court's conclusion that the complainants were credible - a conclusion, moreover, reached unanimously by three judges.

Katsav's attorneys say they plan to base the appeal mainly on issues of legal interpretation, as that is a matter on which the Supreme Court would intervene.