The eighth president of the state, Moshe Katsav, was convicted on Thursday of rape, sexual harassment, committing an indecent act while using force, harassing a witness and obstruction of justice.

The decision of the three-judge panel in the Tel Aviv District Court was unanimous in a landmark case that at once stains the country and demonstrates that not even the most elevated citizen is above the law.

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“I had no doubt that if and when things would reach judicial inquiry, justice would be seen and done,” the rape victim, “Aleph,” who worked for Katsav at the Tourism Ministry, said in response to the verdict. “For a long time I was subject to base and false attacks at the hands of Katsav’s battery of lawyers and public relations experts. The relief is huge and I am glad to seal this part of my life.

My message to women who are exposed to harassment or molestation is to go and complain, even if the path to justice is long.”

After the verdict had been read by Judge George Kara, Katsav, 65, was allowed to return to his home in Kiryat Malachi, pending sentencing.

But the court issued an injunction forbidding him to leave the country and ordered the former president to hand over his passport to the police.

Katsav reportedly told his associates after the verdict that he still maintained his innocence and thought the court had been “biased” against him. The very fact of his conviction on almost all of the charges, he said, demonstrated that bias.

If he were given the maximum consecutive sentence for every one of the offenses, Katsav would face 49 years in prison. Some legal experts said, however, that he faced a doubledigit sentence; his lawyers bridled at the notion. Sentence is expected to be issued in the next few months.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein will decide what sentence to ask the court to hand down, his senior adviser Raz Nizri said on Thursday night. Nizri said the time that had elapsed since the crimes and the public price Katsav had paid would be figured into the equation.

Katsav’s lawyer Avigdor Feldman said the defense team would recommend that he appeal the verdict.

“You can’t put up with such a verdict,” Feldman said. “The court presented Katsav as the conniving and duplicitous figure that was presented by the media. Such a thing is unprecedented.”

Ronit Amiel, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the convictions represented a “badge of honor” for Israel, even though it was a very difficult day for the state.

“The court convicted a man who was president of Israel and a cabinet minister, on some of the most serious offenses in the law books,” she said on leaving the courthouse. “This is not an easy day for Israel in the symbolic sense, nor for Mr. Katsav in a personal sense, but today teaches us that even presidents and world leaders, when necessary, will stand before the court, and that is a badge of honor for the State of Israel.”

In a message to Katsav’s victims, Amiel said, “The public treats you like letters, void of a name and identity.

We saw you cope bravely throughout the criminal proceedings and today we salute you.”

State Attorney Moshe Lador, speaking at a press conference at the Justice Ministry offices in Jerusalem, called it “a difficult day for the State of Israel. But we can see a ray of light – that this process showed that in Israel all citizens are equal before the law and no one can buy immunity from the law, no matter who they are.”

Lador, who at times appeared to be almost overcome with emotion, said that “along with the sadness and the shame, this day is also on some level a tribute to Israeli society and its legal system and law enforcement. Few are the countries, democracies or otherwise, that would place a president on trial on charges of rape and bring full criminal proceedings against him.”

Nevertheless, the convictions immediately provoked a controversy over the state’s handling of the case, and the prosecution’s earlier readiness to reach a plea bargain with Katsav under which the most serious rape allegations would have been dropped.

Katsav ultimately rejected the agreement, setting in motion the court proceedings that led to his conviction.

In their verdict, the judges made plain that they were overwhelmingly convinced that the complainants against the former president were telling the truth, and they issued fierce criticism of Katsav’s defense, rejecting it as full of lies and manipulations.

The Katsav who left the courthouse after the verdict appeared a different man than the one who had gone in. In the less than two hours it took Kara to read the verdict, the former president was transformed from an apparently calm and collected dignitary, who walked in with his chin up and projecting an air of confidence in the justice of his cause, into a convicted felon trying to escape the gaze of onlookers and pushing away reporters blocking his way to his car.

After five months of deliberations, the three-judge panel – Kara, Miriam Sokolow and Judith Shevah – found the former head of state guilty on all but one of the charges (harassing a witness).

He was convicted of two counts of rape, one count of committing an indecent act using force, one count of committing an indecent act, two counts of sexual harassment, one count of harassing a witness and one count of obstructing justice.

Before the verdict began to be read, few experts had predicted so dramatic an outcome.

Reporters at the courthouse, some who had been waiting there from six in the morning, speculated on the result, the more cynical of them wagering on a full acquittal.

Even the feminist protesters who stood outside the hall chanting: “Justice now, convict Katsav” and “The whole nation knows it, Katsav is a rapist,” said they did not expect such a complete victory.

Things looked bleak for Katsav from the start of the reading, when it immediately became clear there would be no full acquittal. Then the judge reached the rape charges, which accused Katsav of twice forcefully raping “Aleph.”

“Aleph is completely reliable in our eyes. Her answers were spontaneous and lacked sophistication,” the verdict read. “She told her investigators and the court facts that supposedly put her in a bad light, and exposed her misgivings openly. Moreover, her words were, for the most part, supported by independent evidence, the existence of some of which she knew nothing about. We therefore accept her version regarding her being raped by the defendant and his committing an indecent act against her.”

The verdict continued: “As opposed to Aleph, the testimony of the defendant was dishonest.

The defendant, who is intelligent and sharp, was aware of every shred of evidence in the file, and from the content of his answers, it is clear that he knew the facts, not from memory, but from conclusions of testimonies or evidence samples. The defendant’s testimony was full of lies, big and small, and was characterized throughout by manipulations and hidden information.”

The protesters outside cheered loudly as reports reached them via phone calls and text messages from supporters inside the courtroom.

Upon hearing where the verdict was leaning, the demonstrators began chanting: “Now that it’s clear, harsh punishment is near.”

In court, things were going from bad to worse for Katsav.

After refuting his entire defense, attacking his legal strategy, repeatedly calling him a liar and a bully, and ruling him guilty of the rape charges, the judges went on to convict him of repeated sexual harassment while taking advantage of his position of authority, for three instances in which he hugged complainant “Heh,” who worked for him while he was president, against her will.

In the case of “Lamed,” who also worked for Katsav while he was president and who accused him of sexual harassment and committing an indecent act – when he hugged her in a sexual way and made lewd comments about her – the judges also found him guilty.

The judges rejected outright Katsav’s effort to use an “abuse of process” defense, i.e., saying there were acts in the use of the legal process not proper in the regular prosecution of the proceedings.

“The defendant identifies abuse of process in several key locations: the hate and incitement campaign that, he claims, was launched against him by the media and branded him publicly as a rapist prior to trial; intentional leaks that came out against him from the police, the state prosecution and the attorney- general that prejudiced the public against him; media interviews by witnesses and plaintiffs; statements made by the attorney- general that doomed him prior to the submission of an indictment; and fouling of the legal waters,” read the verdict.

The judges, who tended to agree with Katsav that the media was too involved in the trial, nonetheless explained that they failed to accept this as a legal defense, because Katsav himself was an active participant in the media circus.

“We are not dealing with a one-sided publicity campaign against the defendant. This was not a situation where the defendant was rendered helpless, since the defendant joined in the array of publications and mudslingings and took an active part. Since that is the shape of things and since the defendant himself entered the ring, despite our misgivings about the media’s behavior, the defendant, who went along with it, cannot be absolved.”

For the most part, the courtroom was quiet throughout the reading of the verdict, with all eyes on Katsav, looking for a reaction.

At one point, Katsav’s son Boaz shouted out, “It’s not true,” but the only words heard from Katsav’s own mouth were soft murmurings of “No, no, no.”

Later, Boaz said that the family would continue to be proud of his father.

“Judges, ruling according to their feelings, delivered the verdict, but we will continue to walk tall. The whole nation will know that father is innocent,” he said.

Upon leaving the courthouse elevators, Katsav was immediately surrounded by reporters asking him to comment.

He pushed his way through the throng, with the help of his aides and family members, bolted for the exit and rushed to a waiting vehicle, heading home to Kiryat Malachi.

Menahem Mazuz, the former attorney-general who originally filed the indictment against Katsav, expressed satisfaction with the verdict.

“The court’s decision to convict Katsav on a majority of the offences charged against him in the indictment shows that it accepted the claims of the prosecution and rejected Katsav’s claims that he was being framed and unjustly persecuted,” Mazuz said. “The verdict given by the court sends an important message that a woman’s body and dignity is not forfeitable and that the law on these matters will be strictly enforced, without prejudice, against criminals and dignitaries alike, no matter how lofty their position.”

A second “Aleph,” the original complainant, Katsav’s former employee at the President’s Residence, who sparked the entire investigation but who was eventually excluded from the charge sheet because of the statute of limitations, sent a statement to the press: “Seven years ago, I first met Moshe Katsav, and I hope that today, the seven worst years of my life are over. I salute the women who built up courage and complained, and am glad that the court brought the truth to light. I was privileged to help bring to an end the suffering of many women who worked under Katsav and to prevent the suffering of additional women. I wish to thank all those who encouraged me and supported me in the face of Katsav’s and his men’s slander campaign. I am now considering my next steps.”

Katsav told associates after the verdict: “I feel malice, malicious intent. From the first moment I knew they wanted to convict me, that they were affected by the public atmosphere. It was expressed in the management of the trial.

“I was treated very strictly, there was toughness, they scheduled me very intensive days of deliberations, the judges opposed my requests, as if I was behaving manipulatively, as if I harbored a hidden agenda, as if they wanted to teach me a lesson,” Katsav said.

“I didn’t believe that the verdict would be so decisive and it’s the total conviction that proves the pattern.

“There was a feeling throughout the entire trial that everything was predetermined and that we were putting on an act for the appearance of democracy.

They made it difficult for me on every count and completely ignored contradictions in the plaintiff’s testimonies,” he said.

“I could have accepted the plea bargain, but decided to battle for my truth. I couldn’t sign that deal. I know the truth.”

Ceremonies and Symbols Committee chairman Stas Meseznikov said he would convene the committee to determine the future status of Katsav’s ceremonial privileges.

Katsav is currently on the A list, which would mean, among other things, that upon his death, his coffin would lie in state at Beit Hanassi and he would be buried in the Heroes of the Nation section on Mount Herzl, Israel Radio reported.

Three years ago, the Knesset Finance Committee decided that anyone convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude forfeited all of their rights except for their pension upon the issuance of the verdict.

Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.

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