- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

JERUSALEM (AP) Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav entered a minimum-security prison on Wednesday to start serving a seven-year sentence for rape, but not before defiantly accusing the state of Israel of “executing” an innocent man.

The day was a bittersweet one for Israel, both shameful because the former holder of a lofty office was going behind bars for a heinous crime and a point of honor because it showed that even a president is equal before the law in Israel.

Katsav, 66, was convicted last December of raping a former female employee when he was a Cabinet minister and of sexually harassing two other women when he was president from 2000 to 2007.

The former president, who repeatedly has professed his innocence, remained free while he appealed his case, but the Supreme Court upheld the conviction last month and ordered him to prison.

“They are sending an innocent man to jail, period,” Katsav told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday night.

TV footage on Wednesday showed Katsav entering the Maasiyahu prison in central Israel, where he became the highest-ranking Israeli official ever to spend time behind bars.

Earlier in the day, Katsav looked agitated and overwhelmed as he ventured from his house in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi to address the hordes of journalists who had gathered there before he set off on the hourlong drive to Maasiyahu prison.

In a brief statement, Katsav accused authorities of ignoring evidence that he said could clear him but predicted that one day, “the truth will come to light.”

“The state of Israel is executing a man today on the basis of impressions, without real-time testimony, without evidence,” Katsav railed. “One day, consciences will prick, and you will see that you buried a man alive.”

In the absence of forensic evidence, prosecutors built their case almost entirely on witness testimony.

Legal experts say the similarities in the accounts of victims who did not know each other likely led to the conviction, in which the judges accused Katsav of lying.

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