(photo credit: AP [file])
Former President Moshe Katsav will lose the benefits which are normally afforded to former Israeli presidents should his plea bargain be approved, the Knesset Finance Committee decided on Monday.
According to the decision, any president, prime minister, or judge who is convicted of a criminal act involving moral turpitude while in office or after completing his or her term, will lose certain benefits. In addition, the committee's decision states that the benefits will cease automatically, and that they would only be returned if a court overturns the conviction or declares that the act is not thought to have involved moral turpitude.
The decision was made after MK Haim Oron (Meretz) initiated a debate on the subject. 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 are significant. As a former president, Katsav was entitled to 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. According to Monday's decision, those benefits would be canceled. However, the committee's decision does not apply to Katsav's hefty pension of NIS 48,000 a month, or his right to a bodyguard. In addition, his cell phone bill and landline will continue to be paid.
Likud MK Gilad Erdan 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) submitted a bill to prevent Katsav from receiving a pension from the state. Avraham intends to expedite the bills 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 after the High Court of Justice decides on the legitimacy of a 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 "second Aleph." The charges regarding the "first Aleph" included 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. The charges involving the "second Aleph" were reduced to committing an indecent act without consent by using pressure. Shai argued that in the case of the "first Aleph," the evidence against Katsav had been shaky in the first place, and many of Mazuz's advisers had been against indicting him all along. The doubts had 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 or not Mazuz had struck a reasonable balance between the quality of the evidence and the degree of 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 the evidence, but would see that part of it, which allegedly explained the drastic change of mind the state had undergone.
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 afterwards.
A public opinion poll by the Dahaf Research Institute published in Yediot Aharonot showed 69 percent of those surveyed opposed the plea bargain and 73 percent thought justice wasn't served. The poll surveyed 503 people and had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.