Former president Moshe Katsav, who is currently serving a prison sentence after he was convicted of rape, officially submitted a request for a pardon to President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday.
By law, the president is empowered to grant pardons to convicted felons sent to prison.
The request from Katsav comes just weeks after the parole commission turned down the former president's bid for early release. He has served over five years of a seven-year sentence.
Katsav was convicted in December 2010 of two counts of rape, one count of committing an indecent act using force, one count of committing an indecent act, two counts of sexual harassment, one count of harassing a witness and one count of obstructing justice.
He entered Ma’asiyahu Prison near Ramle in December 2011.
One of Katsav’s two lawyers, Zion Amir, told the press after the parole board’s denial that he would appeal the decision.
Katsav has two chances to appeal. First, he can appeal to the Lod District Court, and if he loses that, he can appeal again to the Supreme Court.
When asked how Katsav had received the decision, Amir said that Katsav was in “great pain,” and wanted to go home.
Rivlin told the press last month that he would not interfere with the parole board’s decision, that there was a process for seeking a pardon which runs through the Justice Ministry, and that the process would follow the rules, without special treatment, if Katsav requests a pardon.
Katsav can wait around six months and then try again for an early release before the same parole board.
Channel 10 reported that in the near term Katsav would be assigned a special handler in the prison to ensure that he does not harm himself after losing his first chance for early release, but a Prisons Service spokeswoman said that such special treatment would be decided on an individual basis regarding anyone denied parole. Generally, the key factors for parole board’s decisions are the prisoner’s behavior in jail; absence of danger to commit future offenses; extent of rehabilitation; and the public interest.
The Prisons Service parole board said its 18-page decision was based on its review of the former president’s fitness “to be released with conditions” and of the “dangers” entailed in him being let go.
The board wrote, “Before us is a prisoner who denies that he committed the crimes, who continues to claim his innocence despite the court decisions... which was manifested in his appearance before us.”
On that issue, the board adopted the prosecution’s position, finally officially revealed in the published portion of the decision (some portions will not be published), that Katsav could not be released early since no sexual offender has been released early without expressing regret.
Katsav acted “as if there were no legal proceedings and he continues even today as someone who has not undergone any treatment connected to the crimes which he perpetrated,” the board said.
Further, it noted that the court slammed Katsav for the severity of his crimes, that “the crime victims expressed their position against his release before the board,” and that expert opinions rejected Katsav’s proposed private post-release program as not being “capable... of preventing continued defective conduct.”
The former president’s “obsession with his innocence” damages his ability “to avoid the same risk” of his sexually assaulting more women, it said.
Katsav’s lawyers had countered he should be released early due to his good behavior in prison, his worsening health, age (70) and an argument that he is no danger to society. Along those lines, they argued that his offenses were connected to his power as president, an office he will never return to again.
They also said that legal precedent does not require expressing regret to obtain an early release, and that expressing regret is not decisive for whether someone has been rehabilitated, it is only one of many factors in reducing the danger a prisoner might present in the future.
Ultimately the board trumped general precedent about not needing to express regret with specific precedent that all past sexual offenders who have gotten early release did express regret – as the prosecution argued.
Controversy erupted regarding Katsav’s plea request in early March with rumors that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and President Reuven Rivlin were pushing for an early release and implying that the eighth president of the state’s sentence would be commuted if the parole board did not release him.
Both Shaked and Rivlin denied the rumors, with Rivlin accusing the justice minister of starting them.
Then there were contradictory reports about whether the board would decide on the release request at the two earlier hearings.
When it did not decide, there was speculation that it might be taking longer in the hope that rehabilitation evaluators would switch from opposing Katsav’s early release to being in favor.
The board was presided over by retired judge Moshe Mechlis, who was joined by psychologist Chana Gordon, psychotherapist Chanit Laufer-Fisher and Prisons Service representative Orit Rabinovich.Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ben Hartman contributed to this story.