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Former Israeli President Katsav Convicted Of Rape

Former President Moshe Katsav arrives in court in Tel Aviv.
Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav was visibly distraught as a judge of the Tel Aviv district court read out his conviction for rape and for a string of other sexual offenses.

Iranian-born Katsav was found guilty of twice raping a female member of his staff in 1998, when he was Israel's tourism minister. The court also convicted him on lesser counts of indecent acts and sexual harassment, involving two other women who worked for him after he became president in 2000.

He was in addition convicted of tampering with a witness and obstruction of justice. He faces a jail sentence for rape of between four and 16 years, but he may appeal to the Supreme Court.

Moshe Negbi, legal analyst for Israeli Radio, told Reuters in Tel Aviv, said that Katsav will receive a long sentence.

"Under Israeli law, the maximum penalty for rape is 16 years in jail. We have to remember that he was convicted of two offenses of rape and also other sex offenses and other offenses," Negbi explained. "I have no doubt that he will be sent for a considerable number of years in jail."

Women's groups have welcomed the verdict. Here's Miriam Schler, executive director of the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center, told Reuters that this sends "a very, very important message to all the rape victims in Israel that were abused by men in power, in positions of power, that they can file a complaint and that the justice system and the legal system will do justice."

Demonstrators outside the court demanded that Katsav be sent to prison immediately

Throughout most of the four-and-a-half year legal proceedings, Katsav maintained his innocence. He agreed in 2007 to plead guilty to the lesser charges if the main rape charges were dropped. But he later rejected this plea bargain and said he would fight to clear his name entirely.

But the verdict of the panel of three judges described his testimony as riddled with lies. The ruling also said that when a woman says no she means no.

Katsav has accused the Israeli press and establishment of conducting a "witch hunt" against him because of his Sephardic origins. Sephardic Jews come from the Middle East, while Israeli public life is dominated by Ashkenazi Jews, stemming from Europe.

Born in the central Iranian city of Yazd in 1945, Katsav emigrated to Israel with his family in 1951. One of eight children, he rose from poverty to political success, becoming a prominent member of the right-of-center Likud bloc.

The case against him has shocked the nation, with its depiction of the former head of state as a sexual predator who regularly harassed female members of his staff.

Although the office of president in Israel is largely ceremonial, the bearer of that office is expected to embody the dignity of the state. Katsav resigned in disgrace in 2007, being replaced by Shimon Peres.

written by Breffni O'Rourke with agency reports