31 Dec 2010

Former Israeli leader found guilty of rape

6:09 am on 31 December 2010

Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav was found guilty of rape and other sex crimes on Thursday.

Katsav, who could now face years in prison, had denied charges he twice raped an aide when he was a cabinet minister in the late 1990s, and molested or sexually harassed two other women who worked for him during his 2000-2007 term as president.

But a three-judge panel said his testimony had been "riddled with lies". "When a woman says no, she means no," the panel said in its ruling.

Katsav was also convicted of obstructing justice, for trying to confer with one complainant about her testimony to police, Reuters reports.

The ashen-faced 65-year-old had no comment for reporters as he was spirited out of Tel Aviv District Court by a scrum of relatives, attorneys and bodyguards.

One of his lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, criticised the unanimous verdict for ignoring "all of the doubts" about the women's accounts and said Katsav planned to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

"This is a sad day for the state of Israel and its residents," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party of which Katsav is a veteran member, said in a statement following the verdict.

"Today the court conveyed two clear-cut messages, that all are equal before the law and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body," Mr Netanyahu said.

Sentencing will be announced at a later date, but rape carries a minimum prison term of four years and a maximum of 16 years in Israel.

Though the scandal had forced Katsav's early retirement in disgrace, it had little impact on Israeli government functions, as the presidency is largely ceremonial.