Disgraced Israeli ex-president says he's a 'wreck'

November 16, 2011 - 6:50 AM

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's former president, Moshe Katsav, said in interviews published on Wednesday that he is a "wreck" after being sentenced to seven years in prison for rape, but insisted he was innocent and vowed never to stop fighting to clear his name.

The remarks, published in the Yediot and Maariv dailies, were Katsav's first public statements since Israel's Supreme Court rejected his appeal last week.

The court upheld a ruling that Katsav, 65, raped a former employee while he was a Cabinet minister and sexually harassed two other women during his presidency from 2000 to 2007. He is to report to prison next month to start serving his sentence.

In the interviews, Katsav described himself as a victim of a grave injustice, saying that while he respected the judges' decision, he believed they made a mistake by accepting his victims' testimony over his own.

Katsav also suggested he was the victim of a conspiracy, telling Yediot that "there were also politicians who stood behind the accusations against me."

The former president has repeatedly professed his innocence since the accusations against him first surfaced five years ago. However, for the first time, he apologized if any women were hurt by his actions.

Nonetheless, he said he would never stop fighting to prove his innocence. "The justice of my cause will come to light — even if it is after my death," he told Yediot.

One of Katsav's lawyers has expressed concerns that Katsav could be suicidal, and Yediot said that rumors spread in the ex-president's hometown after the court ruling that he had taken his life.

"I didn't commit suicide and I don't intend to commit suicide," Katsav told Yediot. "I have promised my family to be strong, but even iron that takes the kind of blows that I have taken over the past five years ultimately bends."

Israel's presidency is a largely ceremonial office, typically filled by a respected elder statesman expected to rise above politics and serve as a moral compass. Most political power is concentrated in the hands of the prime minister.

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 a man widely seen as a bland functionary as a predatory boss who repeatedly used authority 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. But he then rejected the plea bargain, vowing to prove his innocence in court.

Katsav told Maariv he is "at peace" with his decision to reject the plea deal. "I couldn't live with the knowledge that I would have to confess to an offense I didn't commit," he said.

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Federman can be reached at www.twitter.com/joseffederman.