Moshe Katsav
Former President Moshe Katsav arrives to hear the verdict in his rape trial at Tel Aviv District Court, December 30, 2010. Photo by Tal Cohen
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Former President Moshe Katsav was found guilty of two counts of rape yesterday, bringing an end to an affair that cast a shadow over Israeli politics for the past four and a half years.

Katsav’s defense was “riddled with lies,” according to the Tel Aviv District Court.

The unanimous verdict was handed down after complaints had surfaced of sexual offenses against various subordinates during Katsav’s terms as tourism minister and president.

The court did not immediately hand down a date for sentencing. Rape carries a prison sentence of four to 16 years. Katsav’s attorneys plan to appeal.

The Iranian-born Katsav was convicted of raping and sexually assaulting A., a former employee at the Tourism Ministry while Katsav was minister. He was convicted of sexually harassing H. from the President’s Residence, of sexually abusing and harassing L. from the President’s Residence and of obstruction of justice.

The year-long trial took place almost entirely behind closed doors and left the public wondering whether the 65-year-old Katsav 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Katsav’s conviction marked a “sad day for the State of Israel and its residents.”

“Today the court conveyed two clear-cut messages, that all are equal before the law and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body,” Netanyahu said.

Later yesterday State Prosecutor Moshe Lador added that having authority “doesn’t give you immunity.”

Dirty tricks

Katsav was acquitted on only one charge − that he allegedly harassed a witness.

The judges found that Katsav used edited tapes, partial transcripts, unrealistic datebooks, unfounded statements and prepared testimonies as part of his court defense. They said Katsav “excelled in manipulation and withholding information.”

As he read the verdict aloud, Judge George Karra said that by choosing to reject the plea bargain, Katsav had shuffled the deck, and not in his own favor.

Katsav had tried to charm A., Karra said, and when she did not respond to his overtures, he began to harass her. The defendant told the victim that he was in love with her and left her feeling humiliated.

“We accept A.’s version of events that the humiliation stemmed from a single reason, that she refused to accept the defendant’s sexual advances,” the judges ruled.

They said that the testimonies disqualified “claims of slander. All of the testimonies based on what A. said contradict the defendant’s claims that this was an invention born of emotion.”

A key problem in Katsav’s defense was that he presented the court with edited tapes, which manipulated documented conversations between A. and Katsav associate Uri Yoeli about the possibility of A. returning to work for Katsav.

The tapes were submitted as evidence that A. intended to return to work for Katsav after the date of the claimed rape, so for this reason it was not probable that A. was raped by Katsav.

The judges wrote that in the disc of the recordings, “there are only seven conversations, which were taken out of context, and anyone who listens to them can understand that we are dealing with a work of editing and revising.”

The judges also found that Katsav used Yoeli to fabricate evidence that could have aided Katsav if A. broke her silence and complained about him.

The judges wrote that Katsav reached a low when he used his late father’s memorial ceremony, which A. also attended. Katsav noted that the ceremony took place in May, so it would not have made sense that A. was raped in April and came to his father’s memorial a month later.

‘Malicious intent’

According to Channel 2 News, Katsav told his associates, “I didn’t believe that the verdict would be so decisive, and it’s the total conviction that proves the pattern. There was a feeling throughout the entire trial that everything was predetermined and that we were putting on an act for the appearance of democracy. They made it difficult for me on every count and completely ignored contradictions in the plaintiff’s testimonies.

“I feel malice, malicious intent. From the first moment I knew they wanted to convict me, that they were affected by the public atmosphere. It was expressed in the management of the trial, I was treated very strictly, there was toughness, they scheduled me very intensive days of deliberations, the judges opposed my requests, as if I were behaving manipulatively, as if I harbored a hidden agenda, as if they wanted to teach me a lesson.”

Katsav’s lawyers are appealing. “Precisely because the verdict was so unequivocal there is room to appeal and to raise the fact that the court ignored the evidence,” attorney Avigdor Feldman told Israel Radio.

“The verdict has created an image of Moshe Katsav as a gambling man, devious and a manipulator. There is absolutely no basis for that.”

In a separate interview with Army Radio, Feldman said he was worried about the effect the verdict would have on Katsav’s mental health.

Prosecutor Ronit Amiel urged journalists to focus on the complainants.

“We have seen you through the criminal process show continued courage and determination in dealing with the events you experienced,” Amiel said, addressing her remarks directly to the victims. “Today, we salute you. The message to survivors of harassment is ‘do not be silent.’”

Tomer Zarchin contributed to this report.