A year and a half after the start of his trial and 12 years after allegedly committing the first of the offenses with which he was charged, former president Moshe Katsav arrived at the Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday morning to hear from the judges whether they believe him to be guilty or innocent of rape and sexual harassment.
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Along with him, an entire country is holding its breath in anticipation of the judges’ ruling.
"The accused claimed that the media treated him unfairly, but he was a part of the publicity and the slander," Judge George Kara said, reading the verdict. He mentioned the press conference Katsav held in the Beit Hanassi and the former president's criticism of former attorney-general Menahem Mazuz.
Various women's organizations demonstrated in front of the court, in solidarity with the women who accused Katsav. The demonstrators held signs reading "You are not alone" and "We believe you."
reading of the verdict will be the first glimpse the Israeli public gets of the
monumental decisions reached by the panel of judges Kara, Miriam Sokolow
and Judith Shevah.
At the state’s request, Katsav’s trial was held behind
closed doors to protect the privacy of the plaintiffs. The only transcripts of
the proceedings to be published during the trial were of the opening speeches by
the defense and prosecution, and a single day’s hearing.
against the former president include 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
The indictment included alleged sexual misconduct on
Katsav’s part against three women including “Aleph,” who worked for him in the
Tourism Ministry, and “Heh” and “Lamed Yod,” who worked for him during his term
The most serious charges against Katsav involve Aleph.
According to the indictment, Katsav raped her on two occasions and also used
force to commit an indecent act.
In the five months that have passed
since the two sides delivered their closing statements, the judges have had a
chance to examine thoroughly the evidence, arguments and testimonies heard in
the courtroom. During that time, they have had to reach decisions on several key
One of them was to assess the credibility of the plaintiffs’
testimonies. While the prosecution presumably did everything to present the
plaintiffs as helpless victims of the sexual advances of an important and
powerful man who was also their boss, the defense lawyers, equally, did their
best to paint them as willing partners in a “harmless” office
Apart from the three alleged victims, the prosecution also
called upon two additional women who claimed that Katsav had molested them, but
whose complaints did not form part of the indictment because the statute of
limitations on those alleged offenses had passed. These witnesses were called to
establish a pattern by which Katsav allegedly operated.
consideration the judges had to rule on involved recent changes to the offense
of rape in the criminal code. The code currently states that the penalty for
rape is a period of between four and 16 years’ imprisonment. Since the alleged
offenses took place before the code was changed, if Katsav is found guilty, the
judges may sentence him to a shorter term.
There are three possible
outcomes that the judges will read out in court: a complete acquittal on all
charges, a complete conviction, or a partial conviction on some of the
If he is found guilty on all counts, Katsav stands to face a
maximum sentence of 52 years in prison; however, even in such an eventuality it
is not likely that he will serve more than the maximum sentence for the most
serious rape charge – 16 years.
In any event, it is unlikely that the
case will end with the reading of the verdict, as both sides have the right to
appeal to the Supreme Court if the verdict doesn’t satisfy them.
has claimed complete innocence since the affair first broke in summer 2006,
after he filed a complaint to the police against a former female employee. He
accused her of attempted extortion after she allegedly tried to blackmail him by
threatening to expose him as a sexual deviant.
The woman, who later came
to be known as “Aleph from Beit Hanassi,” was not, in the end, part of the
indictment; but she was the one who got the investigation against the then
In the months that followed, as the police and
prosecution built up their case against Katsav, public opinion turned against
him and calls for his resignation mounted. Katsav did eventually step down – but
not before hurling severe accusations against the police, the prosecution and
the media during a press conference at his official residence, during which he
claimed they were conducting a witch-hunt against him and pledged to prove his
A key moment in the affair took place in August 2008, when
Katsav reneged on a plea bargain signed with the State Attorney’s Office in
order to have the chance to prove his innocence in court.
The deal, which
would have seen Katsav plead guilty to two charges of sexual harassment – but
not the rape charges – sent 20,000 people out into the streets of Tel Aviv in
In March 2009, then attorney-general Menachem Mazuz filed the
indictment against Katsav. It graphically described the former president’s
alleged crimes and painted him as a sexual predator. His trial began in May last
“I am here today by choice; I depart today on a long, difficult,
journey to battle for my innocence. Here it is no longer a mock trial, here they
won’t determine my case without seeing me, without hearing me, without reading
all the investigation materials… I am embarking on a long and difficult battle
to clear my name, and I promise once again that I will emerge innocent,” said
Katsav at the start of his trial.
On Thursday, the country will find out
whether that is indeed the case.Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.