Middle East

Israel ex-President Moshe Katsav sentenced for rape

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Media captionIsrael's former President Moshe Katsav arrives at court, but has to be protected as he leaves amid a heated press scrum

Israel's former President Moshe Katsav has been sentenced to seven years in jail for rape and other sex offences.

He was convicted at an earlier hearing of raping an employee in the 1990s when he was tourism minister, and of later sexual offences while he was president.

The rape victim, known as Woman A, told the court he had first attacked her at the tourism ministry office, and later at a hotel in Jerusalem.

Katsav, 65, resigned from the largely ceremonial post of president in 2007.

He had initially agreed with prosecutors to plead guilty to sexual misconduct, avoiding more serious charges.

But he later withdrew the agreement and denied the rape allegations.

Sentencing Katsav - the first former Israeli head of state to be jailed - the judges told him no-one was above the law.

The Associated Press reported that Katsav broke down in tears when he heard the sentence, shouting at the judges: "You made a mistake. It is a lie. The girls know it is a lie."

'Riddled with lies'

Mr Katsav will not go to jail immediately, with his sentence due to begin on 8 May. However, he has 45 days to appeal against the sentence.

After his conviction in December last year, Israeli media dubbed the case a political earthquake, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as "a sad day for Israel and its residents".

According to court documents, he committed the rape in April 1998, and sexually harassed two women in 2003 and 2005 during his presidency.

Judge George Karra told him: "We believe the plaintiff [Woman A] because her testimony is supported by elements of evidence and she told the truth."

The judges said Katsav's evidence had been "riddled with lies".

Women's groups in Israel welcomed the conviction, arguing that allegations of sexual harassment were too often ignored.

Both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the sentencing marked a sad day for Israel, Israel's Haaertz newspaper reports.

"This is an extraordinary day in the state of Israel," Mr Netanyahu said.

"This is a day of sadness and shame, but it is also a day of deep appreciation and pride for the Israeli justice system."

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