(photo credit: AP [file])
The Knesset Finance Committee unanimously decided Monday to revoke all benefits given to former presidents and prime ministers convicted of an offense that carries moral turpitude.
The proposal, which was submitted by MK Haim Oron (Meretz), was aimed at former President Moshe Katsav, although it will not affect him until his plea bargain is formally approved.
Past officials who left their offices amid crimes of moral turpitude will be affected by the law immediately, including former ministers Gonen Segev, Arye Deri and Yitzhak Mordechai.
According to the decision, any president, prime minister, minister, or judge who is convicted of a criminal act involving moral turpitude while in office or after completing his or her term, will automatically lose certain benefits, which would be returned only in the event the conviction was overturned or the act declared free of moral turpitude.
The proposal does not apply to Knesset Members and it explicitly states that a person's pension cannot be removed nor altered.
Oron had initially intended to raise the matter only following the completion of Katsav's trial, but changed his mind after the former president signed a plea bargain deal in which he admitted to committing sexual offenses.
The benefits that Katsav is set to lose include an office with two secretaries, a car and driver and an apartment paid for by the State for seven years following the end of his term.
The committee's decision does not apply to Katsav's pension of NIS 48,000 a month, or his right to a bodyguard. In addition, the state will continue to pick up his cell and landline phone bills.
Other MKs have submitted similar bills, including Likud MK Gilad Erdan, who already passed a bill in preliminary reading to remove benefits from a president or public official who was convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. Knesset House Committee chair Ruhama Avraham (Kadima) also submitted a bill to prevent Katsav from receiving a pension from the state. Avraham intends to expedite the bill's passage through her committee.
Israel Beiteinu MKs have submitted bills calling for the cancellation of the office of president.
A trial for the former president will be held only if the High Court of Justice rejects the legitimacy of the plea bargain deal which was offered to Katsav by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz.
The indictment Mazuz announced on January 23 included one (later two) counts of rape, one count of committing an indecent act without the consent of the victim, and sexual harassment, all pertaining to Katsav's relationship with the complainant referred to as the "second Aleph." The indictment also included charges regarding the "first Aleph" of forbidden sexual intercourse by exploiting authority and sexual harassment. Charges of sexual harassment were also filed in the cases of two other women.
In the final indictment all of the charges involving the first Aleph were dropped and the charges involving the second Aleph were reduced to forceful committing of an indecent act without consent. State prosecuter Shai Nitzan argued that in the case of the first Aleph, the evidence against Katsav had been shaky in the first place, and that many of Mazuz's advisers had been against indicting him all along. Their doubts continued to grow until the prosecution decided to drop the case.
On July 17, the High Court of Justice agreed to hear evidence from the case against Katsav that supposedly led the state to reach a plea bargain with the defense and drop all charges regarding Katsav's relationship with the first Aleph.
During the proceedings, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch questioned whether Mazuz had struck a reasonable balance between the quality of the evidence and the public interest in holding a trial.
Nitzan replied that the only way the court could judge the nature of the evidence was by seeing it. Beinisch said that she was not prepared to study all of the evidence, but would see that part of the evidence which allegedly explained the prosecution's drastic change of mind.
The evidence will be heard behind closed doors. Each of the lawyers representing the first and second Alephs will participate in the part of the hearing dealing with their client. The lawyers will not be allowed to tell their clients what the evidence is.
The hearing will be held soon, said Beinisch. The court's decision on the request for an interim injunction will be handed down shortly afterward.
A public opinion poll by the Dahaf Research Institute published in Yediot Aharonot showed that 69 percent of 503 people surveyed opposed the plea bargain and that 73 percent thought justice had not been served.