In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected former president Moshe Katsav’s appeal against his rape conviction and his seven-year prison sentence.
Almost a year after he was convicted in the Tel Aviv District Court of two counts of rape, two counts of sexual harassment, an indecent act using force and obstruction of justice, Supreme Court justices Edna Arbel, Salim Joubran and Miriam Naor rejected all of Katsav’s defense arguments and said the conviction and prison sentence imposed by the lower court would stand.The justices ordered Katsav to present himself at the Tel Aviv District Court on December 7, where the Prisons Service will take him to begin serving his sentence.Katsav, 65, was sentenced to a further two years on probation and will pay compensation totaling NIS 100,000 to his rape victim, known as “Alef from the Tourism Ministry.” The former president will also pay NIS 25,000 compensation to another of the complainants in the case, known as “Lamed,” whom he sexually abused and harassed.RELATED:Katsav: Supreme Court should have heard my testimony Female MKs welcome court's decision on Katsav Tourism Ministry Aleph satisfied by Katsav court decision In announcing their ruling, the justices had harsh words for Katsav, whom they said had systematically abused his position as a senior government and public figure to satisfy his sexual desires.“A great sadness falls on the State of Israel, when a former government minister, deputy prime minister and president is found to have committed such acts,” the ruling stated. “The most difficult scene to witness is that of a national icon, someone who served the country, being sent to prison.”Throughout the hearing, Katsav sat in the second row of the public gallery, surrounded by a son and other family members.His wife, Gila, who had accompanied him to the last of his appeal hearings, chose not to be present for the verdict.The former president looked tense, but managed to smile at the start of the hearing as he greeted his defense team.
As it very quickly became apparent that the court’s ruling was not in his favor, Katsav’s demeanor changed. He appeared shocked, occasionally held his head in one hand and at one point appeared close to breaking down.In a damning judgment that took almost an hour to read, the three justices said there was “no doubt” that the sexual relations between the former president and Alef, his employee when he was tourism minister, had been nonconsensual.The court completely dismissed the line of defense presented by Katsav’s defense lawyers in the appeal, in which they hypothesized that he and Alef had a “romance.”Though Katsav had consistently denied that he had sexual relations with Alef, his attorneys raised that possibility during the appeal. Using a detailed timeline of the events, including telephone logs, before and after the time of the rape that Alef said took place in the Sheraton Hotel in Jerusalem in June 1998, attorneys Avigdor Feldman and Zion Amir tried to create reasonable doubt that a rape had occurred.One of the most difficult aspects of the case was that the rapes Alef complained about had no witnesses. The court had to weigh Alef’s testimony against that of Katsav to determine whether the former Tourism Ministry employee was credible and whether she was telling the truth about the sex attacks, or whether there was reasonable doubt that they happened.“The hard core of the plot, the core story, took place in private,” the justices said in their ruling.“The question is whether there is a ‘cloak’ around these events that creates reasonable doubt?” According to Alef, the Sheraton Hotel rape took place two months after Katsav had raped her in his office. She testified to police that Katsav asked her to come to the Sheraton to review documents in the lobby, but then invited her to a hotel room, where he raped her.In an effort to establish reasonable doubt about both attacks, the defense had asked why Alef would go to a hotel room with Katsav if he had already raped her in his office, and suggested instead that the two had engaged in an affair.During the appeal hearings, attorney Avigdor Feldman said that Alef had put together pieces of a puzzle to create a picture of a rape, when in fact none had taken place.According to Feldman’s hypothesis – which as the justices noted differed from both Katsav’s and Alef’s versions of events – Alef went to the hotel room voluntarily. There, Feldman suggested the two had mutual consensual relations that almost resulted in full intercourse, but because Alef had not wished to fully consummate the act Katsav had immediately stopped.If what took place in the hotel had been a rape, Feldman argued, Katsav would have continued at that point.However, the justices dismissed this hypothesis completely.“If there was a relationship between Alef and [Katsav], why in the aftermath of the incident did his attitude toward her change?” they asked. “Why did he fire her from her job?” Katsav also denied having sex with Alef, having a romance with her and even being with her in the hotel, the justices noted.Also with regard to the defense’s arguments that there was reasonable doubt that the rapes happened, the justices pointed to cases of date rape, in which the fact that a man and a woman had been seen together as a couple in public did not mean that any sex that later occurred was consensual and so could not be used as an argument for reasonable doubt.“Women have the right, at any time, to set their boundaries,” the justices said.The defense’s argument that there had been no violence and so there could not have been any rape was also invalid, said the justices, because of the balance of power between Alef and Katsav. The then-tourism minister had been her boss, they noted.The justices emphasized that Katsav was convicted not because he failed to tell the truth in his testimony before the district court, but because the court found that Alef’s version was reliable regarding all the charges she made against him.Toward the end of the hearing, the former president was visibly upset as the panel of justices sharply criticized him for raping and sexually assaulting several employees while in his role as a senior government and national figure.Katsav had taken advantage of his authority, first as tourism minister, then as deputy prime minister and finally as president to commit several sex crimes, “some of the most serious crimes on the law books,” the justices said.“He abused his position, and violated the body and honor of Alef from the Tourism Ministry, and the honor of both “Hey” and Lamed from the President’s Residence,” the justices said.The sex attacks were apparently premeditated, the court said – Katsav decided to visit Alef’s apartment, to ask her to accompany him to his office in Tel Aviv because he “forgot” something, and to invite her to his hotel room.“[Katsav] created situations in which to try to realize his desires, he used his authority and exalted status to help him carry out these offenses,” said the justices.“This is very serious behavior.”Katsav also expressed no remorse for his actions, the court said, and had never apologized for them. Instead, he claimed the rapes and sexual assaults never happened.The former president had even tried to slander the complainants, the justices said.A major factor in sentencing him to a lengthy prison term was to deter other potential sexual predators from carrying out similar acts, the court said.After the verdict was read, Katsav and his family left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.Immediately after the verdict, state attorney Naomi Granot, a member of the prosecution team, told journalists that the justices had sent an important message to all of the nation’s citizens.“The Supreme Court showed today that all citizens are equal under the law – even the president,” said Granot. “The justices have demonstrated that complainants will be defended, and that anyone who violates the law will be punished.”Katsav’s defense attorney Avigdor Feldman slammed the Supreme Court for accepting the Tel Aviv District Court’s position that Alef’s testimony was credible.“We proved unequivocally that at least one of the rapes could not have occurred according to the complainant’s version and timeline,” he told reporters.Feldman added that in a rape trial such as Katsav’s, where it is the case of one person’s word against another without any physical evidence, the court examines the “cloak” of evidence surrounding the alleged sex attack to see whether there is reasonable doubt that any rape occurred.“The complainant, and I say this in spite of the ruling, lied on multiple occasions,” Feldman said. “She didn’t tell the truth about events surrounding one of the rape charges. But the court decided to believe her.”He added that a “massive media pressure” had contributed to the court’s decision to accept Alef’s testimony as credible.“Alef didn’t come alone. She came with troops of journalists.They accompanied her. They said that Moshe Katsav was guilty even before the indictment was filed against him,” Feldman said, in a dig at former attorney-general Menahem Mazuz, who had given press interviews regarding the case before the former president was arraigned.“That’s why the court believed the complainant, but believing the complainant is not enough,” Feldman said.He said the defense may consider further action.“I will read the full verdict; we only heard the summary. We will think and consider the options together, [and decide] whether or not it is appropriate to request further hearings,” the defense attorney said. “There is the legal possibility of requesting a hearing before an expanded panel of judges.”After returning home to Kiryat Malachi (where he was mayor from 1974 to 1981) after the verdict on Thursday, and with just a month to go before the start of his prison term, Katsav expressed resentment at the Supreme Court’s decision.According to one close friend, David Mot’ei, who visited the former president at his home and spoke to the press outside Katsav’s house, he appeared strong, and despite the ruling, Katsav was sure that he “knew the truth.”Katsav told Mot’ei that despite a seven-year prison sentence, “nothing could break him” and he “felt no guilt.”The former president said that the Supreme Court should have “heard his arguments, but the [judicial] system was not listening,” Mot’ei added.Meanwhile, Alef spoke out in support of the Supreme Court’s decision.“The severity of the punishment is not as important as the decision,” she said.Alef, who remains anonymous, as is standard for complainants in rape and sexual assault trials in Israel, encouraged others who have been victims of sexual assault to speak up.“I hope that women are not afraid to complain,” she said.The first woman to complain about Katsav, “Alef from the President’s Residence,” also expressed relief at the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday, but said the former president’s prison sentence should be “doubled and doubled again.”“I’m happy that the truth has come out,” she said, but expressed regret that she had not been included as one of the complainants in Katsav’s rape trial. She had been controversially excluded from the final indictment because of what the prosecution termed “inconsistencies in her testimony.”Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.