Jerusalem (AP) - Former Israel President Moshe Katsav was convicted Thursday of raping an employee when he was a Cabinet minister, the most serious criminal charges ever brought against a high-ranking official and a case that stunned the nation.
Katsav, 65, faces a minimum of four years in prison on two counts of raping one of his employees in 1998 when he was Israel's tourism minister. The Tel Aviv District Court also convicted him on lesser counts of indecent acts and sexual harassment involving two other women who worked for him after he became president in 2000.
Katsav has denied the charges. He claimed to be a victim of a political witchhunt, suggesting he was targeted because he comes from Israel's Sephardic community. Sephardic Jews, of Middle Eastern origin, were for decades an underclass in Israeli society. Katsav was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel as a child.
The verdict caps a four-and-a-half year saga that shocked Israelis, both with its lurid details and bizarre twists and turns.
Katsav resigned in 2007, two weeks before his seven-year term expired, under a plea bargain that would have required him to admit to lesser charges of sexual misconduct.
He was replaced by elder statesman and Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres. Although the post in Israel is largely ceremonial, the president is head of state, representing the country at ceremonies around the world.
But in a dramatic reversal in April 2009, Katsav rejected the deal and said he wanted to clear his name in court. Around that time, he held a news conference in which he lashed out at prosecutors and denied any wrongdoing. His behavior, in which he shook in anger and screamed at reporters in the room, was widely criticized.
Katsav served as a minister in several right-wing Likud governments before being elected president in 2000.