Ex-Israeli president Katsav sentenced to 7 years

Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav has been sentenced to seven years in prison for a rape conviction, prompting his outrage in a Tel Aviv court.

Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison for sex crimes, making him the highest-ranking Israeli official ever sent to jail.

The silver-haired Katsav broke down in tears and screamed at the judges: "You made a mistake! It is a lie! The girls know it is a lie!"

As he left the courtroom in Tel Aviv, two of his grown sons scuffled with security guards.

"I saw you," Katsav screamed at the guards. "You hurt my boy!"

In December, the Tel Aviv District Court found Katsav, 65, guilty of raping a former employee and sexually harassing two other women who used to work for him in a case stemming back to 2007.

He also was convicted of indecent acts and obstruction of justice.

In sentencing Katsav, the court said his record of public service would not be weighed in his favour, accusing him instead of exploiting his position to become a sexual offender. The court ordered him to report to prison on May 8, giving him time to prepare an appeal. He must also pay fines of about $25,000 and $7,000 US to two of his victims

Fall from grace

Tuesday's sentencing capped a dramatic fall from grace for a man who rose from humble beginnings to become a symbol of success for Mizrahi Jews, or those of Middle Eastern descent, who for years were an underclass in Israel.

The case has also been seen as a victory for the Israeli legal system and for women's rights in a decades-long struggle to chip away at the nation's macho culture, which once permitted political and military leaders great liberties.

The former president, who resigned under public pressure two weeks before his term was to end in 2007, went to trial after rejecting a plea bargain that would have kept him out of jail. Katsav denied all allegations, claiming he was a victim of a political witch hunt and suggesting he was targeted because of his ethnicity.

Katsav was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel as a child.

The case began nearly five years ago when he complained that a female employee was trying to extort him. She went to police with her side of the story, and other women came forward with similar complaints of sexual assaults.