|Moshe Katsav was also convicted of sexual abuse.|
Israeli court finds former president guilty of rape
Katsav may appeal to Supreme Court
JERUSALEM — An Israeli court convicted former president Moshe Katsav of two counts of forcible rape yesterday, a verdict many Israelis described as a low point in the nation’s history but also redemptive, in that it upheld equality before the law.
“There are no two states of Israel, just one state,’’ said Shimon Peres, Katsav’s successor as president. “There are no two kinds of citizens here. . . . All are equal in the eyes of the law.’’
The verdict capped a four-year spectacle that began with accusations of sexual offenses against Katsav while he was still the head of state.
“Never before has a president in the democratic world been found guilty of such deeds,’’ wrote Zeev Segal, the legal commentator for the newspaper Haaretz and a law professor at Tel Aviv University.
A panel of three district court judges in Tel Aviv convicted Katsav, 65, of raping an employee — identified only by her first initial, A. — on two occasions while he was minister of tourism in 1998.
The court also convicted him of sexually abusing and harassing another complainant and of harassing a third while he was president — an exalted, if mostly ceremonial, position that Katsav held from 2000 until 2007.
Katsav has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers said it was possible that he would appeal to the Supreme Court.
One of his lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, said the district court had set aside the doubts of the prosecution “with unfortunate lightness,’’ given that the prosecution considered the chances of a rape conviction “very borderline.’’
Still, yesterday’s verdict was unequivocal, finding Katsav guilty of what Ronit Amiel, a state prosecutor in the case, described as “the most serious and heinous sexual crimes.’’
Katsav, looking ashen, made no comment as he left the court accompanied by his lawyers. His son, Boaz, said that the family was steadfast in its support of Katsav and that they remained convinced he was innocent.
Sentencing is expected in January; legal commentators said rape verdicts usually carried a minimum sentence of four years and a maximum of 16.
Reading from a 29-page summary of the verdict, the presiding judge, George Kara, said that Katsav’s testimony was “strewn with lies, small and large,’’ that the court was convinced the sexual relations were not consensual, and that the rapes had involved the use of force.
Katsav had contended that the rape accusation was a plot by the former Tourism Ministry employee, who he said was seeking revenge after she was fired.