Former President Katsav Takes Stand for First Time in Rape Trial

Former president Moshe Katsav testified at his rape trial for the first time yesterday, taking the witness stand in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court to give his version of the events that ultimately forced him to leave the President's Residence.

Katsav has been charged with two counts of rape and several other sexual offenses against three employees.

The former president testified in a closed-door session, and his remarks are under gag order. Only attorneys and family members allowed in Judge George Karra's court know exactly what Katsav said.

Since allegations of rape first surfaced in 2006, Katsav has maintained that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. But a steady stream of prosecution witnesses has passed through the courtroom over the past few months, in an attempt to disprove Katsav's account.

These witnesses include the three complainants listed in the indictment: A. from the Tourism Ministry, whom Katsav is charged with raping on two occasions; H. from the President's Residence, whom he allegedly sexually assaulted; and L. from the President's Residence, whom he allegedly sexually harassed and whose testimony he allegedly attempted to obstruct.

Four other women with similar complaints testified as well. These women could not file complaints due to the statute of limitations. State Prosecutor's Office officials also testified, as did police officers and lawmakers including MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) and journalists.

Of these, the only testimony thus far authorized for publication was that of Raz Nazri, a senior aide to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Nazri said the State Prosecutor's Office had considered closing the case against Katsav due to evidentiary problems, and viewed a plea bargain as the best option available to them. Nonetheless, Nazri said virtually no one at that office believed the allegations against Katsav were false.

The opening arguments of both prosecutors and the defense were also authorized for publication. Prosecutor Ronit Amiel said that for years, Katsav had used intimidation to silence the complainants, while Avigdor Feldman, part of a defense team including attorneys Zion Amir and Avraham Lavie, accused the prosecution of "demonizing" Katsav.

The defense team said that the trial's evidentiary phase would last at least a month. Unless the gag order is lifted, the verdict will be the next concrete detail to come out of the trial.