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Ex-Israeli president convicted of rape

Thursday December 30, 2010 05:12:47 PM, DPA

Tel Aviv: Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav was found guilty of rape by a court in Tel Aviv Thursday in a ruling more than four years after several women - former employees of Katsav - first made the allegations against him.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge George Kara, who headed a panel of three judges, took more than an hour to read out the verdict.

Katsav, 65, was convicted of all the sexual charges made against him, including two counts of rape and one count of a forced indecent act.

The judges ruled that his version of events was dishonest and called the testimony of one of the women who had complained, identified only as A., "believable".

A. had said that Katsav raped her twice in 1998 when he was tourism minister and she his subordinate. She testified he forced her to have sex with him once in his Tel Aviv office and shortly afterwards in a Jerusalem hotel.

Judge Kara began reading his verdict at 9 a.m., behind closed doors with only a few journalists allowed into the hall, by noting that the ex-president had made a mistake when he suddenly walked away from a lenient offer of a plea bargain.

Witnesses said Katsav murmured "no" as the verdict was being read out.

Dozens of activists from women's rights groups demonstrated outside the court, holding up posters in support of victims of sexual harassment, including one which said, "You are not alone".

Before the accusations surfaced, Katsav had portrayed himself as self-made man who rose from a poor immigrant family from Iran to become Israel's number one citizen in 2000 after a lengthy but relatively undistinguished career as a front-bench lawmaker and minister for the Likud party.

The charges first came to light in July 2006, when the then- president complained to Israel's attorney general he was being blackmailed by a female employee in the president's office.

The attorney-general launched an investigation, which as it proceeded exposed a pattern of behaviour in which Katsav would start sexual liaisons with female subordinates, and according to Thursday's verdict, forced himself upon them.

Once one woman complained against him, others who had worked with him over the years - when Katsav was tourism minister from 1996 until 1999 and president from 2000 until 2007 - followed suit.

The married father of five and grandfather of two has insisted he was innocent, and claimed the women acted out of bitterness due to his rejecting either their professional or romantic advances. He also accused the media of staging a "lynching".

The indictment eventually filed against him included two counts of rape, two counts of committing an indecent act, two counts of sexual harassment, once count of harassing a witness and one count of obstruction of justice.

In Thursday's ruling, he was acquitted of only one charge of allegedly harassing a witness.

Speaking at the start of his trial in May 2009, Katsav had said: "I am fighting to prove my innocence. We are setting out on a long, hard struggle to clear my name."

There was no comment from him Thursday, but Attorney Avigdor Feldman vowed his client "will not let up on his will to prove his innocence".

But prosecutor Ronit Amiel countered: "This is not a happy day. This is not an easy day, but this day does teach about the strength of Israeli democracy, that also people of power and presidents" have no impunity.

It was the first time a former president stood trial in Israel and was seen as a blow to the standing of Israel's highest post.

In Israel, the president has largely ceremonial duties and, in a country riven by political divides and where family values are important, is seen as the one leader who represents all citizens.





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