Israel's Supreme Court Rules Unanimously: Katsav Guilty of Rape

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld former President's rape conviction and seven-year prison sentence for a crime for which he reportedly 'feels no guilt.'

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld former President Moshe Katsav's rape conviction and seven-year prison sentence for a crime for which he reportedly "feels no guilt."

Katsav had appealed both the verdict and the sentence issued last December in the Tel Aviv District Court. Katsav, 65, is due to begin his sentence on December 7.

Tomer Appelbaum

"A deep sadness descends over Israel now that it has been established that a former minister, vice premier and president has committed such acts," the justices wrote in their unanimous verdict. "It is a most difficult spectacle to see a man who served as a state symbol enter prison."

Justices Miriam Naor, Edna Arbel and Salim Joubran entered the courtroom at 9 A.M. and read a summary of their decision. They pulled apart the claims and arguments in Katsav's appeal.

Katsav was convicted of raping an employee who has been identified only by her first initial, A., on two occasions in 1998 while he was tourism minister. He was also convicted of sexually abusing and harassing another woman and of harassing a third while he was head of state. In March, he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

In the courtroom yesterday, the former president's eyes filled with tears when he realized that the justices fully agreed with the District Court's ruling.

Katsav will lose all the privileges accorded to him by the state as a former president, as a result of having been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude. These include a full-time chauffeur, an Audi A8 sedan, office rental, aides, a monthly hospitality allowance of NIS 1,000 and partial reimbursement of maintenance costs for his home in Kiryat Malakhi.

In addition, the Knesset will no longer pay for newspaper delivery to his home or underwrite part of his landline and cellphone expenses.

Katsav will, however, continue to receive a monthly government pension of around NIS 49,000.

NIS 1.8 million was allocated to Katsav in the national budget for 2011. He left the office rented for him by the state in Ramat Gan's Aviv Towers several months ago.

Yesterday Katsav interrupted the session just once, when Joubran said that Katsav had tried to discredit the complainants, insulting and criticizing them and launching an attack in the country's television studios. "I didn't give an interview to the TV stations," Katsav shouted at the bench.

He and his entourage left the courtroom without saying a word to the dozens of Israeli and foreign reporters waiting outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.

The prosecutors in the case, Ronit Amiel and Nissim Merom, told reporters they were satisfied that the court had upheld the principle of equality before the law.

"The message from the verdict is that the principle of equality before the law is total, in addition to sending a message about protecting the bodies of the victims of sexual offenses," Amiel said.

Daniel Saror, the lawyer of A. from the Tourism Ministry, said his client expressed a sense of relief and satisfaction after hearing yesterday's decision. "The severity of the punishment imposed by the court was never as important to her as the conviction itself and the trust placed in her by the court," he said.

"She felt great relief that justice triumphed and the truth came to light. She reiterated her satisfaction with the justice system and hopes that women who are being sexually exploited will not hesitate to complain. A. expressed a desire to put the story behind her and to return to anonymity and routine family life."

Despite her certainty, she was very anxious about the day of the ruling, Saror said. The Supreme Court's upholding of the seven-year sentence and rejection of Katsav's verdict gave her an enormous sense of satisfaction, he added.

"He received the severe sentence he deserved," Saror said. "She claimed the entire time that he was manipulative, that he sent people to discredit her, put away documents and letters for a rainy day as if he knew he would need them one day. The court deserves credit for exposing [Katsav's] true face."

The former president said after the rejection of his appeal that he feels no guilt regarding the offenses for which he was convicted and would continue to insist on his innocence, a close friend of Katsav's told reporters.

"He is strong and steadfast," said David Motai. "There is no reason in the world for anyone to bring him down. He knows his truth, he feels no guilt."

Motai said Katsav was upset the Supreme Court refused to listen to his version of the events, in which he claimed that the sexual relations he had with the complainant were consensual.

"He told us, 'The system wouldn't hear my claims,'" Motai said. "He is surrounded by his family, they are supporting and strengthening him, and I call upon President [Shimon] Peres to pardon him. It is beneath us for the former president to sit in jail."

Attorney Avigdor Feldman, who together with Zion Amir, Aviv Lavie and Mickey Hova represented Katsav, assailed the verdict and said that a different panel of justices might have reached a different conclusion.

"I don't agree with the Supreme Court's decision, but the court has ruled," Feldman said. He accused the court of taking the concept of credibility to the maximum in accepting the victim's testimony to the District Court.

"The concept of credibility hinges on the court's intuition, and I have little faith in it," Feldman added.

In the past few years State Prosecutor Moshe Lador has promised to carry out a thorough examination of the conduct of the State Prosecutor's Office in the case. This comes against the backdrop of widespread criticism of the decision-making process and the plea bargain that was offered to Katsav.

In a statement yesterday, the Justice Ministry confirmed Lador's intentions and said a timetable for the review will be decided shortly.

Main points of the appeal ruling

In their 249-page verdict, the justices tackled a number of issues relating to the case, some of which are discussed below.

The credibility of A. from the Tourism Ministry

The justices unequivocally rejected any doubts about the credibility of A. from the Tourism Ministry, which was the basis for the state's case against Katsav. "To the extent that an interview or court transcript can 'speak,' examination of the transcripts and the statements submitted to the police will not lead us to different conclusions than those reached by the District Court regarding the core of the incidents," they wrote.

The justices rejected Katsav's claims that A. from the Tourism Ministry cooked up the whole story against him because she was fired from her job at the ministry and because he refused to hire her to work at the President's Residence. They also rejected Katsav's claim that her credibility was damaged by A.'s having waited for several years before complaining to the police.

"Had A. sought revenge against the appellant she could have done so before he became president. Were this just a story, A. could have come up with something 'simpler,' rather than setting the first rape in the Tourism Ministry offices in Tel Aviv on a day that wasn't a regular work day, and the second rape in a hotel," they wrote.

Katsav's lawyers argued at length in the appeal that a rape victim would not have sent her supposed rapist a New Year's card they described as a "love letter" just a few months after the incident, or have called a friend to ask him to get her a job at the President's Residence or with a friend of Katsav's, or have called or visited the residence, had something as serious as rape occurred.

"A. needed, desperately needed, a source of income. In order to obtain it she was willing to bow her head. She should not be faulted for that and her testimony discredited," the justices wrote, and went on to stress the credibility of her testimony.

With regard to Katsav's credibility, however, they wrote: "On the important matters the appellant was found to tell untruths and his testimony was found to be entirely not credible."

The alternative defense strategy

In his appeal, Katsav pinned his hopes on the Supreme Court accepting a new line of defense, according to which he and A. from the Tourism Ministry had a consensual romantic relationship. Katsav himself repeatedly denied, in interviews with police investigators and in his testimony to the District Court, any such relationship.

The justices yesterday rejected the alternative defense strategy. "When a defendant chooses to make a complete denial this can have an evidentiary price, especially in cases of sexual offenses where one version is usually pitted against another version. A defendant is not convicted for lying, he is convicted on the basis of credible evidence against him," they wrote.

The justices ruled that the District Court determined Katsav's guilt regarding the charges involving A. from the Tourism Ministry after a detailed analysis that concluded that the acts were not consensual - thus ruling out any scenario either denying any sexual acts between Katsav and A. took place, or claiming that such acts were consensual.

Zvi Zrahiya and Revital Blumenfeld contributed to this report.