[JURIST] The Tel Aviv District Court [official website, in Hebrew] sentenced former Israeli president Moshe Katsav [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to seven years in prison Tuesday for sexually assaulting three women. The court convicted Katsav [JURIST report] in December, finding that he had assaulted a female employee of the Department of Tourism during his time as minister and two women at the President's Residence during his time as president. Katsav must also serve two years of probation [Haaretz report] and pay a total of 125,000 NIS ( USD $35,500) to his victims. The judge reading the sentence cited Katsav's pattern of repeated abuse [Jerusalem Post report] as a reason for the long sentence. In a minority opinion, one judge argued that Katsav should face only four years in prison. Katsav has continued to maintain his innocence, and his lawyer said he will appeal the sentence [Jerusalem Post report], which is scheduled to begin May 8. Katsav is the highest ranking Israeli official ever sentenced to jail.
Katsav was initially indicted on rape charges [JURIST report] in 2009 for allegedly assaulting female employees in the 1990's. In 2008, Katsav rejected a plea agreement [JURIST report] that would have permitted him to plead guilty to lesser charges of indecent assault, sexual harassment and obstruction of justice in exchange for a suspended sentence and the dropping of rape charges. The plea deal had been criticized [JURIST report] by women's and civil rights activists, prompting five separate petitions to overturn the agreement.