Tel Aviv, Israel – An Israeli court ordered former Israeli President Moshe Katsav to prison for seven years Tuesday following a rape conviction, rejecting his attorneys’ request for leniency and making him the highest-ranking Israeli official ever sent to jail.
The silver-haired Katsav remained stoic throughout most of the reading, but he broke down in tears upon hearing his sentence and screamed at the judges: “You made a mistake! It is a lie! The girls know it is a lie!”
As he exited the courtroom, two of his grown sons scuffled with security guards. “I saw you! You hurt my boy!” Katsav screamed.
In sentencing the disgraced politician, the court said Katsav’s record of public service would not be weighed in his favor, accusing him instead of exploiting his position to become a sexual offender. The court ordered him to report to prison on May 8, giving him time to prepare an appeal. He must also pay fines of about $25,000 and $7,000 to two of his victims.
“The defendant committed the acts like any other person, and he must bear the punishment like any other person,” Judge George Kara read from a prepared verdict. “The message leaving this courtroom has to be sharp and clear.”
Tuesday’s sentencing capped a dramatic fall from grace for a man who rose from humble beginnings to become a symbol of success for Mizrahi Jews, or those of Middle Eastern descent, who for years were an underclass in Israel. The presidency is a largely ceremonial office, typically filled by a respected elder statesman who is capable of rising above politics and unifying the country.
Katsav, Israel’s eighth president, resigned under public pressure two weeks before his term was to end in 2007. The current president, Nobel winner Shimon Peres, succeeded him.
Katsav repeatedly denied all allegations against him, claiming he was a victim of a political witch hunt and suggesting he was targeted because of his ethnicity. Katsav was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel as a child.
The Israeli public has been riveted by the case’s twists and salacious details.
In one memorably bizarre press conference Katsav lashed out angrily at prosecutors and the media for plotting his demise, shaking in anger, waving a computer disk that he said proved his innocence and screaming. Later, he rejected a plea bargain that would have allowed him to avoid jail time.
A stone-faced Katsav entered the courtroom accompanied by his sons and confidantes and would not address the hoards to media present. Neither his wife Gila nor his three accusers were present.
He refused to sit in the dock until the cameras left and then erupted in anger upon hearing his sentence.
“Just because someone is quiet doesn’t mean he is guilty,” he cried. “It’s all lies. You have committed a great injustice.”
Katsav’s attorney, Zion Amir, said the court trampled his client’s rights.
“There are those who think the sentencing is a celebration of democracy in Israel. I think it is a sad day, a day of mourning,” he said.
He said Katsav’s battle was not over and he would file an appeal with the Supreme Court.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni each issued statements expressing sorrow for Katsav’s fate but respect for the sentencing.