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Israel ex-president denied release for having ‘no sympathy’ for his rape victims

Parole board refuses early release of Moshe Katsav, now 70, who is serving seven years for two counts of rape, sexual harassment
Anti-rape campaigners picket Katsav in 2011 shortly before his imprisonment (AFP)

Israel’s former president, Moshe Katsav, was denied early release from prison after he “expressed no regret and no sympathy towards the victims of his crimes," which include rape and sexual assault, an Israeli parole board ruled on Wednesday.

Katsav, who was the first Israeli head of state to be sent to prison, began serving a seven-year prison term in 2011 for rape and other sexual offences.

"The board emphasised that the prisoner presented himself as a victim and has continually attributed responsibility for his situation to others," the board said in a statement, while also stressing that Katsav has refused to undergo rehabilitation programmes in prison.

Katsav was expected to appeal the parole board's decision, his lawyers said. According to prosecution sources, during his hearing on Sunday, Katsav said the two counts of rape were a “misunderstanding on the women’s part,” Haaretz reported.

The decision has drawn support from across the Israeli political spectrum. Shulamit Mualem-Rafaeli of the right-wing Jewish Home party said that "a man who… never expressed remorse for his grave deeds and shamelessly attacked the women who complained against him is not worthy of leniency."

Meanwhile, Merav Michaeli of the centre-left Zionist Union, said that "a rapist who refuses to take responsibility for his deeds does not deserve to have his punishment truncated".

Katsav, now 70, has always maintained his innocence despite being convicted in December 2010 on two counts of rape, sexual harassment, indecent acts and obstruction of justice.

Before his imprisonment in 2011, the long-time Likud member and former minister said Israel was “taking a man out to execute him on the basis of impressions, without evidence”.

"One day the truth will be revealed. The state is imprisoning a grandfather of grandchildren, a former president. I never hurt anyone, I treated everyone with respect," he said.

The 18-month trial included harrowing accusations and portrayed him as a sexual predator who routinely harassed his female staff.

The offences committed against his employees were said to have occurred when he served as tourism minister and as president.

'A monstrous terror'

A woman who served as his secretary during his term as tourism minister in the late 1990s made graphic allegations against him.

She described Katsav as "monstrous," with a "split personality" who subjected her to "terror".

Katsav became president in 2000, and for months defied enormous public pressure to quit over the allegations before ultimately resigning as part of a plea bargain in 2007.

He was replaced by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and elder statesman Shimon Peres in the largely ceremonial post.

Afer resigning, Katsav later decided that instead of facing trial for lesser charges he would "fight until the truth comes out" and called off the plea bargain.

He appealed his conviction before the Israeli Supreme Court and lost. He also failed to convince either judges or politicians that he should be allowed to serve his sentence at home.

Katsav was born in Iran and rose from impoverished origins as a child immigrant to the nation's top job.

He was Israel's first conservative president and the first born in an Islamic country.

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