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The Knesset House Committee on Sunday approved President Moshe Katsav's request to extend his suspension, as police denied claims by Katsav's attorneys that they had used illegal wiretaps in the sexual misconduct case against the president.
Eleven MKs voted in favor of extending Katsav's leave of absence by three months, or until his term is set to end this summer. The four MKs who voted against the extension, the Likud's Gideon Sa'ar and Yuli Edelstein, Nadia Hilou (Labor) and Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), released a statement saying that the Knesset should not facilitate Katsav's "humiliating" tactics.
The Knesset House Committee's decision read: "The committee objects to the fact that the president did not resign, particularly after the attorney-general announced that there was cause for an indictment on serious chargesâ€¦. however under the circumstances, and once the president chose not to resign but to declare that he was unable to perform his job, the Knesset House Committee approves the announcement and declares that the president is temporarily unable to perform his job, starting from the current suspension period until the end of his term according to the law."
According to Knesset bylaws, Katsav can halt the suspension at any point in time by notifying the Knesset that he was returning to office. Committee Chairwoman MK Ruhama Avraham (Kadima) warned, however, that if Katsav attempted to resume any of his presidential duties she would launch impeachment procedures against him.
"I do not want to see Moshe Katsav serving as the president one more minute," said Avraham.
Meanwhile, the state prosecution informed the High Court of Justice on Sunday that the police did not eavesdrop on Katsav, his family, or close aides, contrary to allegations that surfaced last week.
The state made the declaration during a hearing on a petition by Katsav's lawyers, Zion Amir and Avigdor Feldman, who demanded that the state prosecution hand over all the investigation material that it gathered so that it could properly prepare for Katsav's hearing, scheduled for May 2.
The material included interviews that Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel and other prosecutors conducted with the women who complained against Katsav, the opinions of Abarbanel and the head of the Criminal Section of the State Attorney's Office, Efrat Barzilai, which reportedly differed from that of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, and the transcripts of the wiretapped conversations that the police allegedly made.
Last week, Channel 1 reported that there was convincing proof that the telephones of Katsav's close aides had been wiretapped. Feldman confirmed the report to The Jerusalem Post.
The state's representative, Attorney Dina Silver, told the court that police had only wiretapped the phone calls of the "first A.," that is, the A. who worked in the president's residence, whom Katsav accused of threatening to blackmail him.
Silver added that nothing in the transcripts of A.'s wiretapped conversations was of relevance to the defense, but to protect A.'s privacy, the state would not give them to Katsav's lawyers.
Feldman tried to persuade the court that even though the state was not obliged to hand over all the material before the hearing, it should do so because of the special circumstances of the case involving the president of the state.
"We are talking about criminal accusations in which only two people were involved," Feldman argued. "Therefore, if someone else has something to contribute, it is very important for the state to provide it. The state claims it is holding the hearing gladly and with an open mind. If so, what difference does it make to them to hand over all the material, which might help the suspect?"
Feldman added that the hearing for Katsav was not an ordinary one since he had already promised to resign if the state decided to indict him.
Therefore, the implications of this hearing were two-fold. If Mazuz rejected the lawyers' arguments, not only would Katsav be put on trial, he would also lose his job.
But the President of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch, made it clear that she rejected Feldman's arguments. She pointed out that there was a difference between a hearing and a trial and the state was not obliged to hand over all of the investigation material before a hearing. The hearing was meant to deal only with the basic principles of the case, not the details, which would be argued in the trial. The hearing, she added, was not a second trial.
Furthermore, said Beinisch, the state had leaned over backwards to provide the defense with more material for the hearing than it usually did. "That was very good," said Beinisch. "It was very rare."
The panel of three justices including Beinisch, Miriam Na'or and Esther Hayut is due to hand down its ruling on Monday or soon afterwards, since the hearing is set for 10 days hence.
However, she made her opinion clear when she asked Feldman towards the end of the hearing whether he was prepared to withdraw the petition. Feldman declined.