Katsav resignation takes effect
High Court hears petitions against plea bargain; court delays indictment.
By JPOST.COM STAFF, DAN IZENBERG
July 1, 2007 00:16
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The resignation of Moshe Katsav officially took effect on Sunday morning while the High Court of Justice was addressing petitions made by several organizations to challenge the plea bargain arrangement for Katsav.
The Movement for Quality Government, the Women's Network and other women's organizations petitioned the court to issue an interim injunction barring the state from filing its indictment and plea bargain arrangement.
In response to these petitions, the High Court of Justice decided on Sunday to postpone until Monday serving an indictment against the former president in order to give the State more time to respond.
"We must wait until the debate on the petitions scheduled for tomorrow at noon before the State can serve the indictment to the Jerusalem Magistrates Court," the High Court decision read.
After the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court receives the state's indictment against Katsav, it will then retire to decide when to hold the actual hearing.
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Although the court is legally bound to accept the indictment as agreed between the defense and the prosecution - unless the High Court rules otherwise - it does not have to accept the sentence recommended in the agreement. It may ignore the recommended sentence agreed upon by the sides and set its own. The maximum sentence for the main charge against Katsav is seven years in jail.
In another weekend development, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz told Channel 2's Meet the Press program that Katsav lied in his testimony and that he is, indeed, a serial sex offender.
According to the Movement for Quality Government's spokesman, "Mazuz's extreme unreasonableness stems from the fact that he changed his mind about his original intention, which had been based on a lengthy process of investigation and consultation. [Mazuz originally intended] to charge the president with far more serious crimes, including rape and very serious kinds of indecent acts, including touching the plaintiffs in intimate parts of the body and of sexual intercourse. These are crimes whose accepted threshold of punishment would have led to a situation where the president would have been sentenced to a lengthy term in jail.
"[The change in Mazuz's opinion] took place even though no new evidence was brought before the attorney-general that undermined the evidential infrastructure that had originally led him to prepare the far more severe indictment."
University of Haifa law professor Emmanuel Gross told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday he was doubtful the High Court would reject the plea arrangement. According to Gross, the High Court has never rejected the decision of an attorney-general based on his finding that the evidence was insufficient to establish the guilt of a suspect beyond reasonable doubt.
On the contrary, every previous petition demanding the rejection of an attorney-general's decision on such grounds had been rejected, said Gross.
The High Court has twice accepted petitions against an attorney-general's decision (in one of the cases it was a judge advocate-general's decision) to close an investigation without charges. However, in both cases, the attorney-general and the judge advocate-general had based their decision on the fact that it was not in the public's interest to hold a trial.
Meanwhile, Mazuz went on television to further explain his decision after his public press conference on Thursday morning did little to stem the outrage expressed by many individuals and organizations.
He said that in his announcement of January 23, in which he mentioned far more serious charges than the ones ultimately leveled, he had said he was considering filing charges that included rape, forbidden intercourse by consent by exploiting authority in employment or service, committing an indecent act without consent, committing an indecent act by exploiting authority and three counts of sexual harassment, charges that involved four women.
Mazuz compared this situation to a judicial commission of inquiry that issues letters of caution to individuals, including the suspicions against them, at the end of the first stage of the investigation. In the second stage, those who have been cautioned are given an opportunity to defend themselves before the commission. Only afterwards does the commission make its final decisions. The implication is that the hearing Mazuz held for Katsav was comparable to the second stage of a commission of inquiry.
Some of the most strident criticism of Mazuz is based on the fact that he dropped all the original charges against the most well known witness, the "first Aleph," and omitted her from the final indictment altogether. Mazuz said he had concluded that she was an unreliable witness.
"There were many contradictions in her own testimony and between her testimony and those of other witnesses," said Mazuz. "We put basic faith in her in that we believed Katsav's version of events was a lie. At this point we tried to define something. The allegation of 'intercourse with consent' was not hers. She does not maintain that that was what happened. But [even] this allegation evaporated. We came to the conclusion that we could not rely on her testimony."
Asked to explain why, Mazuz said, "'Aleph' describes relations imposed on her by force and refers to two friends whom, she claimed, she told the story to. The police went to her friends in the US and they gave a completely contradictory testimony. They described mutual relations between 'Aleph' and Katsav."
In January, Mazuz said he was considering charging Katsav with having raped the "second Aleph." Later, he announced a second rape charge. In the indictment itself, Katsav was "only" charged with seven counts of committing indecent acts against her.
Mazuz told Channel 2 that Katsav's lawyers, Avigdor Feldman and Zion Amir, had brought new evidence regarding the "second Aleph" to both meetings during the hearing with the attorney-general. Mazuz said some of their evidence "was not insignificant. In the end, we did not come to a final decision. From the moment [the lawyers] asked for a plea bargain arrangement, we had another option - we could either go to court with the rape charges, with all that entailed. We would have to put all the cards on the table. Everything we knew, the defense knew. They knew there was a definite possibility that we would charge their client with rape, and this was a central consideration in their decision to ask for the plea bargain arrangement."
One of the reporters asked Mazuz whether the rape charges had been raised as a strategy to encourage the defense to ask for a plea bargain arrangement. "Heaven forbid! We didn't play poker with the defense attorneys," he said.
Mazuz blamed the press for part of the gap between the public's expectations in the case and the final outcome of the investigation. "You strengthened the process," he said.
"I didn't write the headlines. There were complaints of rape. The police investigated them. We had to make a decision."â€¢