(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
President Moshe Katsav will suspend himself from office if the attorney-general decides to indict him conditional on a hearing, his lawyers informed the High Court of Justice on Monday.
The lawyers, David Liba'i and Zion Amir, added that should Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz make a final decision to indict Katsav following such a hearing, the president would resign from office immediately and stand trial.
The lawyers' statement came during a hearing on a petition submitted by Attorney Yossi Fuchs. Fuchs called on the court to order Katsav to either resign or suspend himself until Mazuz made his final decision on whether or not to indict the president.
In the wake of the lawyers' statement and the recommendation of the state and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Fuchs agreed to withdraw his petition. However, he claimed that he had won the battle.
"Our petition caused an upheaval in the position of the president and his attorneys," he told reporters in the lobby of the Supreme Court after the hearing. "All the media reported that [Katsav] did not intend to suspend himselfâ€¦Yet now, after the petition was filed, they changed their minds and promised the Supreme Court that if there is a decision to file an indictment, the president will suspend himself even before such an indictment is filed."
"It's obvious that the petition caused the change in the president's position," concluded Fuchs.
Katsav is under investigation for alleged crimes including rape, committing indecent acts using force, committing indecent acts without consent, sexual harassment, grand larceny, fraud and breach of faith, and violation of wiretapping laws.
The police recommended indicting him on the above charges and are still investigating allegations that he harassed witnesses and obstructed justice. Meanwhile it handed over the bulk of the evidence to the Jerusalem District Attorney's office which will recommend to Mazuz whether or not to press charges against Katsav, conditional on a hearing, or to close the file.
According to reports, the district attorney's office has already made up its mind and is preparing the draft of an indictment against Katsav for Mazuz's approval.
The police investigation against Katsav began in July, after he complained to the attorney-general that a former female employee in his office had threatened to blackmail him with false accusations that he had had sex with her. The original complained backfired on Katsav and mushroomed into complaints from 10 women who testified before police that they had been victims of his sexual advances. As the case against him grew, there were increasingly vocal demands for him to suspend himself until the prosecution decided whether or not to indict him.
But Katsav refused to declare that he would voluntarily suspend himself immediately or even if Mazuz declared that he would indict him conditional on the results of the hearing.
According to the Basic Law: President, no one can temporarily suspend Katsav except Katsav himself. The Knesset may initiate a move to fire him, but requires a majority of three-quarters of the House (i.e. 90 MKs) to pass the resolution.
Since Katsav consistently refused to declare in public what he intended to do, there were fears he would remain in office until such time as Mazuz made a final decision to indict him. Furthermore, it was estimated that the procedure leading to Mazuz's final decision would take several months and might enable Katsav to remain in office until his seven-year-term expires in July, even if Mazuz did decide to indict him. Fuchs petitioned the High Court in response to the president's silence.
The petition was problematic, however, because according to the Basic Law: President, the president enjoys immunity from any legal procedure against him (including a petition to the High Court) during his period in office.
Fuchs argued that the president was only immune from legal procedures regarding acts he had perpetrated in the context of his public responsibilities. These responsibilities did not include the actions which he was suspected of, Fuchs said dryly.
The state, however, did not agree with Fuchs regarding Katsav's immunity. In its response to the petition, the state's representative, Attorney Dina Silber, maintained that judicial precedent had established that no one could initiate a court procedure aimed directly at the president.
However, Silber added that from a normative point of view, Katsav should temporarily suspend himself immediately until the state made a final decision on whether to indict him or not.
Katsav's promise to suspend himself should Mazuz decide to indict him pending a hearing gave the state almost all it asked for. It wanted Katsav to suspend himself, but believed it was unconstitutional for the court to order the president to do so. Although Katsav did not agree to suspend himself immediately, he made it clear that he would do so if Mazuz decided to indict him conditional on the results of a hearing.
Since Mazuz's decision is expected in about two weeks, the time difference between Katsav and the prosecution is relatively small.