Former President Moshe Katsav was found guilty of two counts of rape, a forceful indecent act, and sexual harassment Thursday morning, with the leading judge calling him a liar.
Katsav was convicted of two instances of rape and one forceful indecent act against A. of the Tourism Ministry, one indecent act and sexual harassment of L., of the President's Residence, and sexual harassment of H., also of the President's Residence.
After the verdict was read, cries of glee could be heard throughout the courthouse as well as from the women's rights activists protesting outside. Katsav appeared pale and wan, shaking his head with disbelief after the judges read out the verdict.
His punishment is expected to be severe, as the maximum penalty for rape is 16 years, and the minimum four.
The three judges, George Karra, Judith Shevach and Miriam Sokolov determined that A. of the Tourism Ministry, who accused Katsav of two counts of rape and a forceful indecent act, had been telling the truth and that the former president's alibi had been refuted.
"The defendant was found unreliable and the complainant's testimony on her rape in the office and hotel were found credible," said Judge George Karra. "No basis was found to the claim that the relations took place with her agreement."
Women's groups protest outside (Photo: Ofer Amram)
"The defendant's attempts at contradicting A.'s claims by bringing in witnesses who claimed her actions were impaired turned out to be nothing but a broken reed," Karra said.
After this, one of Katsav's family members cried out, "It's not true!" The former president appeared pale and weak, and leaned against the wall for support. Meanwhile, the judge continued, "We cannot suspect A. of libel."
"Over time we received evidence that back complainant A's testimony. She was telling the truth, which was hard for her to do, and we accept her explanations," Karra said.
Katsav claimed that he had not had relations with A. in his office at all, but the verdict determined that "it happened, and a rape occurred there".
"The process of shaming A. derived from her refusal to bend to Katsav's will," the judges added.
The former president had also claimed that A. had sent him a love letter and shown clear affection for him. "We reached the conclusion that this was not a love letter… He deceived A. about troubles that did not exist and forced her to discuss his troubles in order to tape her," the verdict says.
"The defendant claims he was lynched by the press, but he himself used the press. We are not discounting the defendant's criticism against the attorney general, who made public speeches against Katsav in the press… But the defendant's claim that the state is engaging in doublespeak would have been true if the state had withdrawn its claims."
Judges Karra, Shevach, and Sokolov (Photo: Tal Cohen)
The guilty verdict against Katsav was welcomed by women's rights activists and especially by the victim, A. of the Tourism Ministry.
A's close friend, Yaron Armuza, who was with her when she heard the news, told Ynet that "a decade-long nightmare has reached its end".
"I put my trust in the court throughout the whole process and justice was served," Armuza said of A's response.
Outside the Tel Aviv District Court women's rights activists began to gather around 8 am, including representatives of an aid group for sexual assault victims. They carried signs reading "You're not alone" and "If there is a doubt there is no doubt".
The activists erupted in a joyous outburst after the verdict was read. Yael Bella, who runs a shelter for victims of sexual assault in Jerusalem, told Ynet that "this was a test of reliability between the victims and the justice system".
"(Katsav) was judged for a lot less than what he did and the judges understood the victims and believed them," she added. But other protestors said it was a "sad day for Israel", as one of its presidents had been convicted of such heinous acts.
Before the verdict, women's aid organizations had already noticed a rise in sexual harassment and rape complaints. "The victims are beginning to feel renewed confidence in the court system," one activist said.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish also appeared satisfied with the verdict, saying that it proves the egalitarianism of the law. "It is a sad day, but it demonstrates the value of equality before the law," she told newly sworn-in judges in Jerusalem.
"This is a difficult time for the family. We will continue to be proud of our father," said Boaz Katsav, the former president's son, after the verdict. "Judges determine verdicts according to gut feelings but we will continue to stand tall. The entire nation will know that my father is innocent."
Katsav's wife Gila was not present at the trial. A family member said after the verdict was read that Gila had told her she felt "very bad".
The former president left his home in Kiryat Malachi before 6 am with his son Ariel and his brother Lior, refusing comment to the media. An affiliate told reporters that "he is hoping for the best, and that the judges will be brave enough to make a decision according to the evidence they have and not the voice of the rabble".
PR advisor Amnon Shomron added, "He prays three times a day and I am assuming he is praying with greater resolve than ever."
"I have no doubt that after the judges have seen all the testimonies and evidence in this case, they will be able to reach the desired outcome as far as I am concerned," Katsav told his associates in recent days.
Katsav could have ended the affair in 2007, when he signed a plea bargain citing only petty crimes, for which the penalty would not have included jail time. However, during the first hearing that took place in a Jerusalem courtroom Katsav reneged on the plea bargain and decided to take his case to court.
In February of 2008 additional charges were added to the indictment, including a forceful indecent act against A. of the Tourism Ministry. A few weeks later Katsav announced he would not be signing a plea bargain, and that he had chosen "to fight for my innocence".
Naama Cohen-Freidman, Aviad Glickman, Meital Yasur Beit-Or, and Yael Branovsky contributed to this report