Former Israeli president jailed for rape

Israel's former president Moshe Katsav was sentenced yesterday to seven years in jail for rape and other sexual offences, the culmination of a five-year-long judicial process that has transfixed the Israeli public.

The Iranian-born bureaucrat has always protested his innocence while accusing the media of a public lynching and a racially driven witch-hunt.

The Tel Aviv court convicted Katsav, 65, in December of twice raping an aide when he was a cabinet minister in the late 1990s, and sexually assaulting two other women who worked for him during his presidency between 2000 and 2007. In the ruling, the judges said that Katsav was "manipulative" and that his testimony was "riddled with lies".

It had been speculated in the media that the court would hand down a less severe sentence, taking into account his years of public service and the intense media scrutiny over the past year. But the judges said that, on the contrary, he had abused his position of power.

"The crime of rape harms and desecrates a person's honour, humiliates them, represses the spirit and damages the soul. The severity of the crime of rape was further reinforced because it was carried out through the exploitation of his position of authority," Judge George Kara said in his ruling.

"The defendant committed the crime and, like every other person, he must bear the consequences," he said.

Katsav broke down in tears after the sentence, shouting: "The women know that they lied! They know that they lied, they are laughing at the judgment! Your Honour knows that she lied!"

Lawyers for Katsav said that they would appeal, and the former president is not due to appear at the prison until 8 May. Katsav, who was also convicted of obstructing justice, was given an additional two-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay two of his victims fines of 25,000 shekels (£4,300) and 7,000 shekels (£1,200).

The affair has transfixed the public since the allegations emerged in 2006. Katsav was forced to resign as president a year later, handing the largely ceremonial office to Shimon Peres. He initially accepted a lenient-plea deal, only to reject it later to prove his innocence.

In the interim, he periodically gave news conferences, bizarre affairs where he denounced the media for publicly trying him without evidence. Following one televised tirade against his attackers, lasting two-and-a-half hours, his press advisers resigned in disgust.