Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav [BBC profile] was convicted of two rape charges on Thursday, following his decision to rescind an earlier plea bargain. A Tel Aviv court found him guilty of assaulting a female employee of the Tourism Ministry during his time as Minister, and two women at the President's Residence during his time as President. Katsav resigned his position as President in 2007 due to the sexual assault allegations. The Tel Aviv District Court [official website, in Hebrew] found that Katsav's defense was "riddled with lies" [Haaretz report], including edited tapes of the women's testimony and falsely prepared datebooks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website; BBC profile] said that the ruling sent two clear messages [CNN report] "about the equality of all before the law and about a woman's right concerning her own body." The conviction ends a four-year legal battle that has Katsav facing between 4 and 16 years in prison. Lead attorney Avigdor Feldman said that Katsav plans to appeal [Ynet report] the ruling to the Supreme Court of Israel [official website, in Hebrew].
Katsav was initially indicted on rape charges [JURIST report] in 2009 for allegedly assaulting female employees in the 1990's. In 2008, Katsav rejected a plea agreement [JURIST report] that would have permitted him to plead guilty to lesser charges of indecent assault, sexual harassment, and obstruction of justice, in exchange for a suspended sentence and the dropping of rape charges. The plea deal had been highly criticized by women's and civil rights activists, prompting 5 separate petitions to overturn the agreement.