(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
As prosecutors put the finishing touches on the new indictment against former president Moshe Katsav, some of the people closest to him spoke out Monday against efforts by the Justice Ministry - and specifically Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz - to try Katsav for offenses including rape.
In the coming days, prosecutors are expected to complete the indictment that Mazuz said Sunday would be issued against the former president.
The indictment will then be submitted to either the Tel Aviv or Jerusalem District Court and trial proceedings will begin against Katsav, who retired to his family home in Kiryat Malachi following his 2007 departure from Beit Hanassi.
But prosecutors will have anything but a smooth road ahead of them, promised Katsav defense attorney Avraham Lavie. Lavie said Monday during an interview on Army Radio that there was "no doubt" that he would put Mazuz himself on the witness stand to testify about his first meeting with Katsav, in which the two discussed the alleged extortion attempt by the woman later known as Aleph from Beit Hanassi.
Lavie did not respond to calls from The Jerusalem Post asking why he believed that Katsav's case would benefit from Mazuz's testimony.
It was this meeting in summer 2006 that set the ball rolling on the investigation into alleged sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape.
"It's going to be an interesting trial, the likes of which have not been seen in Israel," Lavie declared in the interview. "This trial will be a stiff battle, and we will do everything to prove the former president innocent."
Later Monday, the assault against the attorney-general continued when Katsav's brother Lior accused Mazuz of being swayed by a conspiracy of politicians and prosecutors who resented Katsav's election as president, although he did not explain why.
Lior Katsav, an attorney, said on Army Radio that Mazuz would otherwise have closed the case, but knew that he would personally suffer the consequences had he done so.
"He knew it was his head or my brother's," said Lior Katsav, adding that he knew personally that many prosecutors had argued against the indictment and believed that the case should have been closed.
The former president's brother denied that Katsav had engaged in any sexual relations, consensual or otherwise, with the women in question, and argued that the entire affair was a "terrible blood libel [against him] - possibly the worst since the country was established." He also attacked the credibility of key testimony from Tourism Ministry Aleph.
Later Monday, Justice Ministry officials blasted the attacks against Mazuz and the plaintiffs, labeling them "inappropriate" but saying "it is not in our plan to be drawn into this ring of public relations and defamation, and especially when it concerns a process that should be carried out in the courtroom and not in the public sphere."
Nevertheless, Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said he found fit to respond to a number of charges aired against the ministry, denying unequivocally that the prosecution had been influenced by external considerations and arguing that the prosecution's stance had not changed in the case since as early as January 2007.
Meanwhile, Aleph from Beit Hanassi said that she would be prepared to testify in the rape case. Her attorney, Eldad Yaniv, said his client would be willing to take the stand on behalf of the prosecution, even though she herself would not be included in the indictment.
Also Monday, Katsav said on Wednesday, he would convene a press conference in which, his associates stressed, "new and surprising things" would come to light about the case.
Following Mazuz's announcement Sunday, Meretz chairman Haim Oron called for an urgent meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee to amend a bill that would cancel the right to receive state funds for former officials convicted of committing crimes with criminal intent.
Oron's proposal would block the officials' rights to the funds from the moment an indictment is filed, rather than from the moment of conviction. Should the official be found innocent, Oron proposed, he would be entitled retroactively to the suspended funds. The official would also be entitled to a hearing before the Finance Committee prior to the decision to suspend the funds.