JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was found guilty of rape and sexual assault, was sentenced to seven years in jail and ordered to pay compensation to two of his victims.
A panel of three Tel Aviv District Court judges handed down the sentence Tuesday, nearly five years after he was first accused.
Katsav, 65, reportedly began sobbing after the verdict was read and then yelled out several times, interrupting the judges, saying “It’s all lies,” “the sentence is a mistake” and “it’s not true.”
Katsav’s prison sentence is set to begin May 8. He was also ordered to pay more than $28,000 to the rape victim and about $7,000 to the sexual assault victim. He also will serve two years of probation after his release from prison.
“The defendant committed the crime and like every other person, he must bear the consequences. No man is above the law,” the judges wrote in their sentence, which was read out in the courtroom. “The contention that seeing a former president of the country go to jail is too painful to watch is an emotional argument, but it definitely cannot be accepted as an ethical argument.”
The closed-door trial lasted for one year, ending with a guilty verdict on Dec. 30. Two years ago, Katsav declined what was seen as a lenient plea bargain — one that dropped the rape charges for lesser charges and likely would have left him with a suspended sentence — saying that he wanted to clear his name in court.
Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, became president when the Knesset elected him in 2000, upsetting candidate Shimon Peres. Peres became president in 2007 after Katsav resigned in the wake of the allegations, shortly before the end of his term.
“This is an extraordinary day in the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following the sentencing. “This is a day of sadness and shame, but it is also a day of deep appreciation and pride for the Israeli justice system. The court issued a sharp and unequivocal ruling on a simple principle, that of equality before the law; nobody is above the law, not even a former president, all are subject to the law. This distinguishes the State of Israel to a very large degree.”
Netanyahu said the court also ruled on equality between men and women.
“Every woman has the right to her body, the right to respect and freedom, and nobody has the right to take these from her,” the prime minister said. “This also distinguishes the State of Israel to a very large degree.”
Katsav has 45 days to appeal the sentence.