Former Israeli president awaits rape case sentence

AP News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 4:59 PM
Former Israeli president awaits rape case sentence

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav will learn Tuesday whether he will go to jail on a rape conviction in a case that has already made history in Israel.

The former head of state is the highest-ranking Israeli official ever to be convicted of a crime. He faces up to 16 years in prison.

His conviction was seen as a victory for the Israeli legal system and for women's rights in a decades-long struggle to chip away at the nation's macho culture, which once permitted political and military leaders great liberties. At the same time, it left some Israelis equally saddened to see a symbol of the state tarnished.

Katsav was convicted in December of two counts of raping an employee when he was tourism minister in 1998. The court also convicted him of sexual harassment against two other women who worked for him when he was president, from 2000 to 2007.

The presidency is a mostly ceremonial position in Israel, traditionally given to elder statesmen as a reward for a lifetime of public service.

Details surfaced in 2006 when Katsav complained that a female employee was trying to blackmail him. The woman went to police with her side of the story, listing a series of alleged sexual assaults. Other women later came forward with other complaints of sexual abuse by Katsav.

Katsav has denied all allegations from the beginning, saying he was the victim of a political witch hunt.

Public pressure forced him to resign in 2007, two weeks before the end of his term, under a plea bargain that would have made him admit to lesser charges of sexual misconduct.

Katsav later rejected the deal, vowing to clear his name in court.

He was replaced by elder statesman and Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres.

Legal expert Moshe Negbi said the maximum sentence in Israel for rape is 16 years and that the court demands that at least a quarter, or 4 years, be served.

Katsav's rise to Israel's top job was hailed as a success story at the time due to his humble beginnings.

Katsav was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel as a child, growing up in immigrant tent encampments and then in Kiryat Malachi, a hardscrabble town in southern Israel.

Katsav was elected mayor of that town at the age of 24 _ becoming the youngest mayor in Israel's history. He rose through the ranks of the rightist Likud Party to hold a series of Cabinet posts before parliament selected him to be president in 2000.

He has mostly retreated to his home since he was convicted.