(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The justice system has taken several blows in recent years. With chronically-overloaded prosecutors, and with Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch at each others' throats on a near-weekly basis, it seems as if the system can't get a break. And then, of course, there is the fact that even when it might have been able to generate some convenient PR through speedy and efficient handling of a high-profile case, key offices in the ministry turned even those into foot-dragging farces.
That might be, at least as it is played out in the media, the best way to define the work carried out by the various arms of the Justice Ministry in dealing with the investigation into former president Moshe Katsav. One might think that in a case that was broadcast initially across the world, things might progress efficiently. But one would be wrong.
This is not to say that the case - which, at its media-frenzy peak, led to a furious Katsav blasting the media in an infamous tirade broadcast live on several international news channels - has entirely vanished from the radar. But it would be correct to say that it's getting pretty close to doing so.
"Pretty close" is actually the key phrase at this stage of the investigation. And "investigation" is technically the correct word, since two-and-a-half-years after the case broke, and a parade of women traipsed into police offices to testify, an indictment has yet to materialize. But, says Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz (to paraphrase), an indictment is "pretty close."
In early February, rumors circulated among reporters covering the Justice Ministry that Mazuz was close to finally preparing an indictment that included at least one charge of rape. In the ensuing month, however, no such indictment has materialized. Justice Ministry insiders suggest that the reason for the delay is a disagreement among top prosecutors who have access to the case material. State Attorney Moshe Lador is reportedly in agreement with Mazuz's position supporting the rape charge, but the other prosecutors working on the case - Ronit Amiel and Nissim Marom - are allegedly still wavering.
Last week, at a conference held at Mishkenot Sha'ananim by the Jerusalem Center for Ethics, Lador said he "admits that the continuation of processes in the case is long. It is long in my eyes, as well, and I am aware that in the public's eyes it is too long. Although no decision has yet been reached, it is not because the case is sitting on a shelf and someone has forgotten to clean off the dust and bring it to the discussion table. I believe that the decision will come soon."
Lador did, however, offer in his defense the fortune-cookie-like reminder that "the decision is more important than the timing of when the decision is made."
But the state prosecutor also hinted that all was not well with the way the case has been handled for the past two years. He said that his office should "examine the management of the Katsav affair," after reporters asked him questions regarding the length of time that it has taken to get to any kind of a resolution on the case.
He added that Mazuz had already determined that once his office reaches a decision regarding the indictment, "There will be a process of review that will be activated at the proper time."
MEANWHILE, THE "Alephs" are getting antsy. Last Wednesday, Tourism Ministry Aleph, the central complainant against Katsav, offered an exclusive interview on prime-time television in which she criticized the prosecutors' treatment of her and the fact that the case has been ongoing for two-and-a-half years without any determination.
She accused prosecutors of "tying her hands" and of treating her without sensitivity, but added that she believes that, ultimately, the case will reach a court room, and that justice will eventually "come to light."
Less than a week earlier, attorneys representing Beit Hanassi Aleph, who was the first of the women to come forward and complain against the former president, retracted an appeal that they had submitted to the Supreme Court in which they had demanded that their client be allowed to confront Katsav before investigators.
This first Aleph, who claimed that Katsav had raped her while she was an employee at Beit Hanassi, was not included in a plea bargain offered to Katsav at an earlier stage of the investigation, and is likely to be left out of the revised indictment - whenever it is filed. The appeal was an attempt to reassert her relevance to the case, but the court rejected it, with Beinisch explaining that the appeal sought to pursue an investigative measure, when the investigative part of the case was long over.
Aleph from Beit Hanassi herself was not present at the hearing. She has been in Canada for weeks, and her return - if she is not called back to confront Katsav before investigators - is less than certain.
Aleph from Bet Hanassi's testimony was one of the sticking points during Mazuz's first attempt to file an indictment against the former president. As early as January 2007, Mazuz announced that he would consider charging Katsav with rape, sexual harassment, breach of trust, obstruction of justice, harassment of a witness and fraud. Five months later, Katsav's lawyers reached a plea bargain according to which Katsav would plead guilty to several counts of sexual harassment and indecent acts, receive a suspended jail sentence and pay compensation to two of his victims.
But the fact that the rape charges against Aleph from Bet Hanassi were dropped led to large protests, with opinion polls showing 70 percent of the public dissatisfied. Meanwhile, support among the prosecution for the two Alephs was wearing thin. In October 2007, the State Attorney's Office reported to the High Court of Justice that it had reversed its decision on the indictment, citing - among other things - an affectionate letter from Tourism Ministry Aleph written after Katsav had allegedly raped her.
In light of the doubts, the prosecution decided to close the file on Beit Hanassi Aleph, leaving the indictment in a much weakened form, alleging indecent acts without consent by applying pressure in the case of Tourism Ministry Aleph and another woman.
Eighteen months later, that indictment - with or without rape charges - has yet to be filed. Mazuz and Lador say that it's just around the corner.