Israel's Top Court Upholds Ex-President's Rape Conviction

Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday rejected former President Moshe Katsav's appeal of his rape conviction and upheld a seven-year prison sentence for the disgraced politician.

The decision capped a long and sordid chapter in Israeli politics that captured the country's attention for more than five years and ended with Katsav becoming the highest-ranking Israeli official ever sentenced to prison. He is to report to prison on Dec. 7 to start serving his sentence.

Katsav, who has proclaimed his innocence throughout the affair, sat stone-faced throughout Thursday's ruling, briefly smiling wryly as it became clear that his appeal was being rejected. He left the courtroom surrounded by supporters and made no comment to reporters.

Katsav, 65, was convicted last December of raping a former employee when he was a Cabinet minister and of sexually harassing two other women during his term as president from 2000 to 2007. He was sentenced in March, but allowed to stay out of jail pending his appeal.

Reading their decision, the three-judge panel said Katsav's testimony had not been credible and accused him of exploiting his status as a high public official.

Katsav's attorney, Avigdor Feldman, said he "did not agree" with the sentence and that the judges had believed one of the plaintiffs despite serious holes in her testimony.

"They would have believed her if she said the rape occured on the planet Venus," Feldman said.

Katsav has maintained he was the victim of a political witch hunt. The court had not been expected to overturn the conviction, though experts had said there was chance the sentence would be reduced.

Israel's presidency is a largely ceremonial office, typically filled by a respected elder statesman who is capable of rising above politics and serving as the country's moral compass.

The case against Katsav, which broke in 2006 after he told police one of his accusers was trying to extort money from him, shocked Israelis by portraying him as a predatory boss who repeatedly used his authority over female employees to force sexual favors.

Katsav reluctantly resigned two weeks before his seven-year term was to expire in 2007 under a plea bargain that would have allowed him to escape jail time.

He was replaced by Nobel peace laureate and former prime minister Shimon Peres, whom he had bested in the 2000 presidential race, decided in the Israeli parliament. Then, in a dramatic reversal, Katsav rejected the plea bargain, vowing to prove his innocence in court.

Judges, however, were not convinced, accused him of lying and sentenced him to jail in March. His long record of public service did not factor in his favor, they said, instead accusing him of exploiting his lofty positions to become a sexual offender.