(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Moshe Katsav's defense team will question Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz as one of its witnesses, a lawyer for the former president told Army Radio on Monday.
Mazuz announced Sunday he was ready to indict Katsav on charges of sexual offenses including rape.
"The trial will be a serious battle, we will do all we can to get [Katsav] acquitted," Katsav's attorney said.
The radio station reported that Mazuz would be asked about a meeting with Katsav, during which he asked the former president about attempts to blackmail him.
The Justice Ministry has been plagued by complications in the case since it first broke in July 2006, including a failed plea bargain attempt and a draft indictment that was retracted.
Mazuz decided on Sunday, after consultation with State Attorney Moshe Lador, to submit the new indictment.
Katsav will be charged with raping and committing indecent assault against 'Tourism Ministry Aleph' during his term as minister (1996 to 1999).
The current draft charge sheet also includes allegations against Katsav concerning sexual offenses he allegedly committed against other female subordinates at the Tourism Ministry, as well as offenses committed while he was president (2000 to 2007).
"The decision was made after Mazuz and Lador came to the conclusion that the plaintiffs' testimonies must be considered and that there was sufficient evidence in the case to justify filing an indictment," a statement from the State Attorney's Office read.
The former president's media adviser, Ronen Tsur, downplayed the decision, saying it did not "surprise one person in Israel."
"Moshe Katsav took into account that this would be the result when he [rejected] the plea bargain, and he's happy for the chance to prove his innocence in a court of law," Tsur said. "For the first time in Israel, the attorney-general has decided to charge a man when he is not certain that [he] is actually guilty, and when the evidence does not support it."
Danny Sror, Aleph's lawyer, said his client was satisfied with the impending indictment, and that she hoped the trial would end in a guilty verdict.
"Aleph expressed satisfaction in light of the decision and praised the law's full faith in her complaint," Sror said. "I have no doubt that the court will also show full faith in Aleph's testimony and will bring the truth to light."
He added, "We hope that the trial will be conducted quickly. Aleph will not conduct the trial through the media, so as not to damage the proceedings."
Others were quick to applaud Mazuz's statement.
"This was a brave and praiseworthy decision, which sends a clear and unequivocal message to women and to all of Israeli society that it is not possible to harm or rape women and to come out of it clean and without punishment," MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) said.
"It is my intention to turn to the head of the Knesset Finance Committee and demand that former president Katsav's benefits be canceled immediately," she added.
Dorit Avramovich, who coordinated a campaign by 20 women's organizations pushing for Katsav to be tried, said, "We are happy with the decision by the attorney-general, who decided to agree to women's groups' demands to try Katsav.
"After a struggle that lasted two years, and after unnecessary juristic foot-dragging and the prolongation of the trial that is unfair for the women who were harmed by sexual violence, we welcome the decision by Mazuz and hope that a just trial will be conducted for Katsav. We promise to continue the public struggle with all our [might] so that the legalistic acrobatics Katsav's defense team [is doing] will not help him, and justice will be done speedily."
Israel Women's Network chairwoman Rinat Bar-Tal added, "After a long period of injustice, we believe that the right thing will finally be done. We have no doubt that this decision will enable other victims of sexual crimes to restore their faith in Israel's judicial system."
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.
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