VIDEO - A Tel Aviv District Court panel sentenced former President Moshe Katsav to seven years in prison and two years of probation for rape, indecent acts, sexual harassment and obstruction of justice on Tuesday.
The sentence was given four years and eight months after Katsav turned to then Attorney General Menachem Mazuz complaining that A. from the President's Residence was blackmailing him.
Judges George Karra and Miriam Sokolov were in agreement and Judith Shevach was in the minority.
She said four years and a larger sum of compensation for the complainants would have sufficed.
Katsav will begin his prison sentence on May 8. The court also ordered Katsav to pay NIS 100,000 (roughly $28,300) to A. from the Tourism Ministry and NIS 25,000 (roughly $7,000) to L. from the President's Residence.
Katsav interrupted the judges after the reading of the sentence and cried out "It's a lie" and got up from his seat and approached the judges. "You're wrong. The girls know they lied. They know," he said. "They mock the verdict. She knows she lied."
|Katsav returns home after sentencing (Video: Roi Idan)|
Shevach stated that "the media's premature judging of the defendant placed him in a weak starting point."
Katsav bowed his head and cried as Shevach said "the public's judging was a direct continuation of pathetic statements made by the attorney general, witnesses who were interviewed freely and boundaries which were crossed." Katsav then turned to the judges as did his sons and called out: "It's all lies, it’s not true."
Katsav arrived at the court accompanied on Tuesday morning by his attorneys Zion Amir and Avigdor Feldman and members of his family.
Dozens of reporters, protestors and rape crisis center activists gathered outside the court.
"Rape is one of the most serious offences in the statute book," Justice George Karra stated at the beginning of the hearing, adding that for this reason the court must send a clear message."
He further added: "Having acknowledged the harm caused to the defendant we nevertheless could not withdraw the charges but mitigate the sentence which would have much harsher otherwise. We must not forget the defendant is not the victim but the one who caused harm."
He further added: "The defendant committed the crime and must bear the punishment as any other man." He rejected the claims the rapes were not brutal.
Karra said Katsav abused his position as president and stressed the severity of the fact the offences were committed while the defendant served in a public post.
Repeating the State's statement he said: "The defendant is a symbol. The fact that Katsav committed the acts while serving in a high-ranking post is reason to judge him severely." The defense claimed that the media sentenced the former president in a field trial.
Katsav in court with his son (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yeshuv)
Earlier in the hearing, Karra stated "Rape hurts and ruins a person's soul. Sexual harassment trampled the dignity of the complainants."
He noted that the State Prosecutor's Office motioned to sentence Katsav to considerable time in prison and accuse him of moral turpitude.
At one point Katsav interrupted the judges and said: "Let them release the protocols. This isn't a Bolshevik regime."
He later said: "Sir, you made a mistake. You didn't allow me to bring in witnesses. You let malice win. You shut me up. Did you allow me to defend myself?
Last December, 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.
On Monday it was reported that A., a former employee at the President's Residence whose complaint was withdrawn from the indictment against Katsav, will file a claim for punitive damages amounting
to several million shekels next week.
Women protesting outside court (Photo: Ofer Amram)
Complainant A. from the Tourism Ministry, who was raped by Katsav twice, told her associates Monday, "I am not vengeful, but I think the court should send a message. Regardless of how many years he spends in prison, (Katsav) will always be a villain.
"The number of years (sentence) is not the issue here, but the harsh verdict, which proved that Katsav committed these despicable acts and raped me," she said.
It appears Katsav will not go to prison immediately, regardless of the sentence, as his attorneys have struck an agreement with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein allowing the former president a month and a half to prepare for his prison term. The court is expected to agree to these terms.
In addition, Katsav can appeal to the Supreme Court within 45 days. An appeal, however, will not delay the start of his prison term.
Naama Cohen-Friedman, Eli Senyor and Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report