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Former Israeli president is guilty of rape

Moshe Katsav, a former president of Israel, was convicted yesterday on two counts of raping an employee while he was a cabinet minister in a case that has shocked the country but is seen as a milestone victory by women's groups.

Katsav, 65, is facing a probable jail sentence of between four and 16 years after being found guilty on charges that he raped and sexually assaulted a female member of his staff when he was tourism minister in 1998.

He was also convicted of sexually harassing an employee in his official Jerusalem residence while he was president, and of sexually abusing and harassing another in the same building, and of a separate count of obstruction of justice.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it had been a sad day for Israel and its citizens but added: "The court sent two clear messages: that everyone is equal and every woman has the full right to her body."

While he could yet appeal, yesterday's verdict concluded a four-year saga that began in 2006 when Katsav complained that a female employee was attempting to blackmail him with stories of sexual assault. The woman then went to the police with the allegations and, as the investigation opened, other women came forward with similar complaints.

Katsav resigned in 2007, just before his seven-year term of office was about to expire. He had negotiated a plea bargain under which he was to admit to lesser charges of sexual misconduct in return for the dropping of the most serious charges of rape.

But in April 2009 he made what now appears to have been – from his point of view – a disastrous error by dramatically reversing his original decision, which would have avoided a jail sentence, and vowing to clear his name in court. He held a histrionic press conference, shaking in anger, screaming at reporters and brandishing a computer disc which he said proved his innocence.

One of the most devastating sections of yesterday's ruling by the three judges in the Tel Aviv court – one male, two female – was their finding that the defendant's testimony was "riddled with lies" and that Katsav, all along, "excelled in manipulation and withholding information".

The judges found the court had been presented with edited tapes which tampered with the recordings of conversations between the rape victim and a Katsav aide, purportedly discussing the possibility that she would return to work for the defendant after the incident was supposed to have happened. The defence therefore argued that it was improbable that she could have been raped.

According to the indictment, Katsav forced a woman to the floor of his office at the Tourism Ministry in 1998 and raped her. Later that year he summoned her to the Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, allegedly to go over paperwork, and then raped her again.