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Jail for disgraced ex-president


Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav is set to begin his jail term (AP)

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav is set to begin his jail term (AP)

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav is set to begin his jail term (AP)

Israel's former president, Moshe Katsav, is heading to prison to begin serving a seven-year term for his conviction in a landmark rape case that both entranced and appalled the nation.

Katsav is expected to leave his home in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi on Wednesday morning and make the one-hour trek to Maasiyahu Prison, a minimum-security facility outside Tel Aviv. He becomes the highest-ranking former Israeli official ever to be placed behind bars.

Katsav, 66, was convicted a year ago of raping a former employee while he was a Cabinet minister and sexually harassing two other women during his presidency, from 2000 to 2007. Katsav, who has repeatedly professed his innocence, remained free while he appealed. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction last month and ordered him to begin serving his sentence.

Prison officials say Katsav will be placed in a special section of Maasiyahu reserved for observant Jews.

His conditions will be a far cry from the luxurious presidential mansion that he once inhabited.

"Moshe Katsav will go to jail as planned tomorrow and will receive the same conditions as other prisoners," Israel's minister for internal security, Yitzhak Aharonovich, told Israel Radio.

He is expected to share a cell with Shlomo Benizri, a former Cabinet minister convicted of accepting bribes.

After serving a quarter of his sentence, Katsav could become eligible for short releases and even apply to have his term shortened. But that would require him to admit to his crimes and express remorse - something he has refused to do.

The Katsav conviction has been hailed as a victory for women's rights and equality under the law - particularly at a sensitive time when Israel's court system, known as a protector of Israel's liberal democracy, has come under assault from nationalists in the government.

It also marked a tragic ending for a man whose rag-to-riches story had served as a symbol of success for Mizrachi Jews, those of Middle Eastern descent who have traditionally been an underclass in Israel.