Moshe Katsav - AP - 22.3.2011
Former President Moshe Katsav, right, leaving a Tel Aviv court with his brother Lior, March 22, 2011. Photo by AP
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Nir Kafri
One of Moshe Katsav’s accusers speaking to the press in 2007. Photo by Nir Kafri

Former President Moshe Katsav was sentenced to seven years in jail yesterday for two counts of rape and other sexual offenses against three women who worked for him.

As the verdict was being read out, Katsav erupted, screaming at the judges, "You've let a lie win!"

The Tel Aviv District Court also sentenced him to pay NIS 100,000 in compensation to the rape victim, A., who worked for him when he was tourism minister, and whom he was also convicted of forcibly sexually assaulting, as well as NIS 25,000 to L., an employee of the President's Residence, whom he was convicted of sexually assaulting and harassing. No compensation was awarded to H., another employee of the President's Residence, whom Katsav was convicted of sexually harassing.

Finally, the judges ruled that his offenses involved moral turpitude - a finding that could bar him from future public office and deprive him of certain economic benefits normally given a former president.

The ruling was signed by Judges George Karra and Miriam Sokolov, with Judge Judith Shevach dissenting. Shevach said that Katsav should serve only four years in jail but pay twice as much compensation to the victims.

By agreement with the prosecution, Katsav will begin serving his sentence on May 8.

A few minutes after 9 A.M., Katsav filed into the courtroom, with his relatives round about him in an effort to shield him from the cameras. Then he took his stand in the defendant's box and the sentence was read out.

"The defendant committed his crimes like any other man, and like any other man, he must bear his punishment," wrote Karra and Sokolov. "No man is above the law, whatever his position; in our view, there is a great deal of sense to the prosecution's stance that the defendant's lofty position, which he used as a means to help him commit his crimes, is actually a reason for severity.

"The defendant's high positions were a tool and a means that he used to commit the sexual crimes for which he is now being held to account," they wrote. "This is someone who served as president of the state, a lofty and powerful position, and the difference in power between him and the subordinates against whom he committed these deeds was enormous."

In addition to the sex crimes, Katsav was also convicted of obstructing justice. For the president to be found guilty of such an offense is particularly grave, they wrote, as "by virtue of his position, he, more than anyone else, symbolized the principles of good governance."

Responding to Katsav's claim that the massive media coverage of his case was grounds for leniency, the judges acknowledged that "some of the reports were premature, hasty, irresponsible and hurtful, accompanied by the sin of deliberate leaks," though others were "legitimate coverage" of a high-profile case involving a senior official.

Nevertheless, they stressed, "we must not forget that the defendant is not the victim whom the law commanded us to protect, but the one who hurt his victims. The defendant's acts did grave damage to the lofty values of human dignity, the sanctity of the body, the right to privacy, the autonomy of the will and the principle of equality, and severe harm to the principles of law and government."

Shevach, in her dissent, said a more lenient sentence was justified by the media and public trial Katsav endured before the official one. She leveled particular criticism at then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz for a media interview he gave even before he decided to indict Katsav, in which he declared that Katsav's behavior fit the pattern of a serial sex offender. "The public's judgment of the defendant even before the trial was not born in a vacuum; it was the direct continuation of the unfortunate and unnecessary statements made by the attorney general and other elected officials," she wrote. "The attorney general is not supposed to operate in the media realm, whether in a case in which he has not yet decided to file an indictment or in a case that is before the court but has not yet been decided."

As the verdict was being read, one of Katsav's relatives violated the standard practice of remaining seated and instead went up to him and embraced him. At that point, Katsav burst into tears and screamed, "They're mistaken, it's all a lie. The entire verdict is a mistake! If someone keeps quiet, that doesn't mean he's guilty."

He then turned to Shevach and said, "You made a mistake, madam, you made a mistake. You wronged me. This verdict isn't right! You caused a lie to win!"

Afterward, Katsav's attorney, Zion Amir, said the former president had spoken from the depths of his heart. Referring to Shevach's dissent, he added, "never has an Israeli court said such harsh things about the conduct of the prosecution, the attorney general and the investigative agencies. These statements ought to lead to a commission of inquiry."

A., the rape victim, said that "even though this is not at all a happy day for me, I certainly have a feeling of satisfaction at the sentence, which fits [Katsav's] grave acts."

Nevertheless, she added, "the severity of the sentence was never of excessive importance to me. From my standpoint, the main thing was the verdict - the fact that the court believed me and did justice with me."

Prosecutor Ronit Amiel said the court had sent a clear normative message, "and it seems to us that we shouldn't add a thing to it, but should rather stop and listen."

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador said the ruling should bolster public confidence in the legal system, as "the entire system succeeded in showing that despite the differences, even the president of Israel is like any other man: When he commits crimes, the system takes legal measures."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu similarly said it was a "day of great admiration for and pride in the Israeli justice system," as "the court, sharply and clearly, laid down a simple principle: equality before the law."