, MAASIYAHU PRISON, Dec 7 – Israel’s disgraced former president Moshe Katsav on Wednesday began a seven-year jail sentence after being convicted on two counts of rape and other sexual offences.
The former head of state, who turned 66 on Monday, entered Ma’asiyahu prison near Tel Aviv shortly after 10am (0800 GMT), an AFP correspondent outside the jail said.
He was convicted in December 2010 of two counts of rape, sexual harassment, indecent acts and obstruction of justice after an 18-month trial which included harrowing accusations, and portrayed him as a sexual predator who routinely harassed his female staff.
Katsav appealed both his conviction and sentence but last month justices at Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the appeal and ordered that he start his prison term on December 7.
Speaking to reporters as he left his home in Kiryat Malachi south of Tel Aviv, Katsav continued to maintain his innocence as he had throughout the trial.
“Today the state of Israel is taking a man out to execute him on the basis of impressions, without evidence,” he said, dressed in a black suit and white shirt.
“One day the truth will be revealed,” he said. “The state is imprisoning a grandfather of grandchildren, a former president. I never hurt anyone, I treated everyone with respect.”
Israel, he charged, was “burying a man alive.”
Katsav is the first Israeli head of state to be sent to prison.
He was convicted a year ago of twice raping a woman identified only as “A” during his term as tourism minister, as well as sexually assaulting and harassing two other women while he was president.
When the allegations came to light, he was forced to resign as head of state in June 2007, handing the largely-ceremonial office to former rival Shimon Peres.
Although he initially accepted a plea bargain that would have seen him admit the lesser charges and pay a fine in exchange for prosecutors dropping the rape charges, he later changed his mind, and said he wanted to clear his name in court.
During his trial, Katsav denied the charges against him and claimed he was the victim of a “lynching” by prosecutors and the media, and accused his victims of trying to blackmail him.
The former president had been due to begin serving his sentence on May 8, but the court agreed to delay it until he completed his appeal.
Israeli lawmakers have sought to strip him of many of the privileges that came with his office, but local media said the disgraced politician would continue to receive his pension, at a rate of 70 percent of his salary as president.