Katsav sentenced to seven years in prison for rape

Former president maintains innocence, accuses judges of ‘participating in lie’; lawyers: We’ll appeal to Supreme Court.

Katsav after sentencing_311(r) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Katsav after sentencing_311(r)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Almost five years after he was first accused and two years since he was charged, former president Moshe Katsav was sentenced on Tuesday in Tel Aviv District Court to seven years in prison and a two-year suspended sentence for the rape and sexual harassment of women who worked for him while he served as president and as a cabinet minister.
The court also ordered Katsav to pay compensation of NIS 100,000 and NIS 25,000 respectively to two of his victims.
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Katsav is slated to enter prison on May 8. His lawyers said they would appeal to the Supreme Court.
The former president continues to maintain his innocence and lashed out at the judges during the hearing, accusing them of “participating in the lie” that he claims the victims concocted against him.
Nearly three months after the three-judge panel of the Tel Aviv District Court unanimously convicted Katsav of two counts of rape, sexual harassment, committing an indecent act while using force, witness harassment and obstruction of justice, the question of whether or not the judges would send the former president to jail was answered emphatically.
Though they failed to reach a unanimous conclusion in the case of the sentencing – in a minority opinion, Judge Judith Shevach proposed a shorter sentence of four years in prison – in the end, the majority ruled that Israel’s eighth president would go to jail for seven years.
In his majority ruling, Judge George Karra said that what made the trial unique was not the nature of the offenses, but the identity of the offender.
“The accused committed the deeds as an ordinary man, and as an ordinary man he must face punishment. No man is above the law, whatever his status.
In our opinion, there is truth in the prosecution’s position that the accused’s high rank, which served him to commit his offenses, should be considered an aggravating factor and not a mitigating factor that would lead to his being released without punishment,” said Karra.
“The claim that seeing someone who was president go to jail is too difficult to bear may perhaps be understood on an emotional level, but surely cannot be accepted on a moral level and be used as an extenuating factor to justify avoiding substantial punishment,” he added.
Karra refused to accept the defense’s mitigating claims that Katsav had used no force against his victims, and ruled that all the necessary force had come from the power dynamic between the victims and their attacker, with Katsav’s rank and authority holding sway over the women who worked under him.
He also failed to credit Katsav for his years of public service as the defense requested, stating that the public arena in which Katsav operated was the “hunting grounds where he stalked his prey.”
“We mustn’t forget that the accused is not the victim that the law is ordered to protect, but the one who harmed his victims,” said Karra, stressing the severity of the offenses of rape and sexual harassment.
In addressing Katsav’s lawyers’ main line of defense – the “media trial” that Katsav had to undergo alongside his actual trial and that caused him undue suffering over the last halfdecade, Karra said that the judges’ recognition of the suffering Katsav and his loved ones had experienced warranted easing the sentence, but did not justify dropping the charges.
He said that if it weren’t for this consideration, Katsav’s punishment would have been much more severe.
In her minority opinion, Shevach differed with her fellow judges on the degree of gravity that should be given to Katsav’s defense strategy.
“A decision on abuse of process is made when there is a drastic injustice caused by the judgment of the accused by the media... The cries of glee and the troubling taunts hurled towards the accused during the reading of the verdict were but the final chord in a long and continuous process of judgment of the accused by the public and his pre-trial conviction,” said Shevach.
“The court does not require cheerleaders or other auxiliary aid,” she went on. “The court requires the public’s trust, and that trust is severely harmed when the trial is conducted in the shadow of organized demonstrations against the accused, that pronounce him a rapist before and during the evidentiary hearings of his trial.”
As she spoke, the cries of protesters calling for a strict sentence could be heard from outside the courthouse.
Shevach also criticized the attorney-general for making what she called “miserable and pointless” remarks about Katsav prior to the trial, and others in the State Attorney’s Office for leaking unprecedented amounts of information about the trial to the media.
Shevach said the only way to truly compensate Katsav for his suffering during the trial was to shorten his sentence, and suggested four years in prison.
At the same time, Shevach proposed that the amount of money Katsav should be forced pay his victims as compensation be increased to the legal limit of NIS 258,000.
In the end, however, the majority opinion was adopted. Katsav was sentenced to seven years in prison and two years’ suspended sentence, and ordered to compensate his victims. The judges also declared his offenses as constituting moral turpitude.
Throughout most of the reading of the sentence, Katsav remained silent, sitting in the accused’s booth and listening closely to what the judges said. But after hearing what punishment the judges had in store for him, he let his emotions, for a moment, get the better of him.
While Shevach was reading her minority opinion, Katsav broke down in tears, and his son approached to embrace him.
The tender moment, however, quickly turned nasty when in response to something his son said to him, Katsav lashed out at the judges.
“They are wrong,” said Katsav referring to the judges. “The whole verdict is wrong. You allowed the lie to win the day.”
Katsav accused the judges of treating him unfairly throughout the trial, not allowing him to present all his evidence.
“The women know that they lied, they are now sitting and mocking the verdict,” he added.
Immediately after the sentence was pronounced, Katsav’s lawyer, Zion Amir, asked to postpone the start of the sentence, pending a Supreme Court ruling in the appeal he planned to file.
Amir said the conviction was highly controversial and warranted the Supreme Court’s attention, especially in light of the minority opinion, which he claimed put in question not only the sentence, but also the verdict itself.
After a brief consultation, the sides agreed to stay the start of the sentence by 45 days, until after Pessah.
Near the end of the hearing, a journalist was removed from the courtroom. Later, it turned out that he had recorded parts of the proceedings and sent them electronically to be broadcast.
The Courts Administration expressed disappointment with media outlets, saying that despite the cooperation they had received, the media had violated courtroom norms and practices and broadcast material not allowed for publication.
Soon after the judges left the courtroom, a ruckus erupted between Katsav’s family and supporters, and reporters rushing to get a comment form the ex-president. Katsav was eventually able, with the aid of the courthouse guards, to exit the courtroom, and from there, he quickly made his way out of the courthouse and into the vehicle that drove him home to Kiryat Malachi.
The defense team stayed behind for a time to answer reporters’ questions. Amir said in response to the sentence that it was “a sad day of mourning” and not a “banner day for democracy, as some people were depicting it.”
He said that the sentence was not surprising given the judges’ opinions, and that no one accounted for the fact that during four-and-a-half years, no consideration had been given to the trials and tribulations that the former president faced.
Amir reiterated his plan to appeal the decision and said that for the whole truth to get out, the entire protocol of the trial would have to be made public.
“The public only saw half of the story,” he said.
Katsav’s other lawyers, Avigdor Feldman and Avi Lavi, repeated Amir’s insistence on appealing. Lavi said that “Judge Shevach’s minority ruling would echo loudly in the Supreme Court.”
Prosecution lawyer Ronit Amiel had little to say, stating only that “the verdict speaks for itself.”