By Steve Weizman, AFP
JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an appeal by former president Moshe Katsav against his conviction for rape and other sexual offences, and upheld his seven-year jail term.
The disgraced 65-year-old showed little emotion as the three justices read out their decision, decreeing that Katsav would begin serving his sentence on December 7, an AFP correspondent said.
He was convicted in December 2010 of two counts of rape, sexual harassment, indecent acts and obstruction of justice after an 18-month trial which included harrowing accusations, and portrayed him as a sexual predator who routinely harassed his female staff.
In March, the court sentenced him to seven years behind bars, which Katsav also appealed. But the judges upheld the sentence which will begin in four weeks time.
In a unanimous, 246-page ruling, the judges upheld Katsav’s conviction on two counts of rape and rejected his “alternative scenarios” — in the case of the main victim, “A”, his lawyers had claimed the two were having an affair and that the sex was consensual.
“We have unanimously decided to not change the District Court’s decision on ‘A’ — that he raped her,” the judges said. “There is no evidence for the affair thesis.”
One by one, the judges refuted the claims made by the defence, ruling that the testimonies of the women involved were “reliable” while that of the former president was not.
One defence argument for clemency was that the rapes, which occurred when Katsav was tourism minister, “were carried out without the use of violent and brutal force.”
That argument, the ruling said, could not be take into consideration.
“It must be remembered that the balance of power between the appellant and ‘A’ was not equal,” it said. “The appellant was her employer, her boss.”
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said in a statement that the ruling should “strengthen every victim of harassment who is afraid to complain.”
Katsav was smiling as he entered the courtroom and greeted well-wishers, and for the most part sat impassively through the hour-long hearing, an AFP correspondent said.
His only outburst came when one of the judges suggested he had used the media to his own advantage. “I never gave TV interviews!” he shouted.
Media reports said that when he begins his jail term on December 7 he will be held in a wing for religiously observant inmates at Ma’asiyahu prison just outside Tel Aviv.
The former head of state was convicted of twice raping “A” during his term as tourism minister, and sexually assaulting and harassing two other women while he was president.
He was forced to resign as head of state in June 2007, handing the largely-ceremonial office to former rival Shimon Peres.
Although he initially accepted a plea bargain that would have seen him admit the lesser charges and pay a fine in exchange for prosecutors dropping the rape charges, he later changed his mind, and said he wanted to clear his name in court.
“My advice to anyone who is offered a plea bargain is to take it,” his lawyer Avigdor Feldman retorted in remarks to army radio outside the Jerusalem court on Thursday.
During his trial, Katsav denied the charges against him and claimed he was the victim of a “lynching” by prosecutors and the media, and accused his victims of trying to blackmail him.
As well as the seven-year sentence, Katsav was handed a two-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay compensation of $28,000 (20,000 euros) to the main victim, as well as $7,000 (5,000 euros) to a second victim.
The former president, the first ever to be jailed, had been due to begin serving his sentence on May 8, but the court agreed to delay it until he completed his appeal.
“A great sorrow has fallen on the state of Israel,” the judges concluded.
“It is a most difficult sight to see someone who was the official symbol of the state of Israel going to prison.”