JERUSALEM – Former Israel President Moshe Katsav was convicted Thursday of raping an employee when he was a Cabinet minister, the most serious criminal charges ever brought against a high-ranking official and a case that shocked the nation.
Katsav, 65, likely faces from four to 16 years in prison for the crimes, which included two counts of raping an employee in 1998 when he was tourism minister and lesser counts of indecent acts and sexual harassment involving two other women who worked for him when he was president.
Katsav served as a minister in several right-wing Likud governments before he was elected president, a largely ceremonial post, in 2000. He has denied the rape charges, claiming he was a victim of a political witch hunt and suggesting he was targeted because he comes from Israel's Sephardic community. Sephardic Jews, of Middle Eastern origin, were for decades an underclass. Katsav was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel as a child.
A somber Katsav left the courtroom without commenting, surrounded by his legal team. He was ordered to surrender his passport while awaiting sentencing at a date that has not yet been set.
Katsav can appeal the verdict, but legal experts said Israel's Supreme Court was unlikely to overturn such a sweeping conviction. A presidential pardon is also highly unlikely because of the severity of the offenses. In his ruling, the judge said Katsav's defense was full of lies.