Less than a week before his seven-year prison term was set to begin, former president Moshe Katsav’s defense team filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, on Monday, over the Tel Aviv District Court’s conviction of Katsav on rape and sexual harassment charges and the severity of its sentence.
Katsav’s attorney, Zion Amir, told The Jerusalem Post that the appeal, which stretches over 300 pages, attacked the lower court’s decisions regarding both its treatment of the evidence presented during the trial as well as what the defense team characterized as lack of sufficient consideration on the part of the judges to the public trial Katsav underwent over the course of the past few years.
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“In their verdict the judges completely ignored parts of the evidence, and other parts, in our opinion, were not given their due weight,” said Amir.
The Defense team, made up of attorneys Amir, Avigdor Feldman, Avraham Levi and Mickey Hova, also submitted a request to have Katsav’s prison term postponed until the end of the appeal process.
In the request the lawyers noted that Katsav has been walking around freely and without limitations, other than being prohibited from leaving the country, since the sentencing in March, and that none of the regular reasons for rejecting postponement, like public endangerment and the risk of flight, carry any weight in Katsav’s case.
The lawyers also asked for special consideration in light of Katsav’s former status, who as president and number one citizen, was the country’s formal representative in Israel and around the world. The defense team warned of the shame that would fall on the state and the court if Katsav was imprisoned and it later turned out he was innocent.
“It would be far better that this case, which went through so many and such extreme tribulations and with all of its uniqueness, be heard in this honorable court, with the appellant arriving as a free man and not brought from the prison to the Supreme Court in shackles,” read the request.
The request preempted the State Attorney’s Office anticipated response that the appeal had no chance, by quoting extensively from the state’s own arguments before the Supreme Court, in 2007, arguing in favor of reaching a plea bargain with Katsav because of shaky evidence.
“Both those who believed that the case should be closed and those who believed that a comprehensive indictment should be filed supported the plea bargain. This fact has significant meaning: it shows that a large group of lawyers, among them very senior ones, who knew the full details of the case, including its drawbacks, with all its evidentiary problems, believed there was only a borderline chance for a conviction and that an acquittal result was certainly possible,” read the request.
One of the main point’s that the defense team sought to challenge was the lower court’s refusal to even entertain the notion that the relationship between Katsav and the complainant Alef, from the Tourism Ministry, was of a consensual nature, according to the request. Such a position, claimed the lawyers, goes against the court’s duty to investigate all possible options that may insert reasonable doubt regarding the rape offense.
Amir said that because of lack of sufficient time to prepare, the appeal submitted Monday related only to the most serious conviction, that of rape offenses and that additional submissions, regarding the other conviction charges, would be filed at a later date.
In order to convince the Supreme Court of their claims, the defense team went to great lengths to cast serious doubts over Alef’s testimony, including attacks on her motives and on her character. Lacking much in the way of objective physical evidence, the District Court’s conviction rested substantially on the judges believing Alef’s version over that of Katsav and his lawyers believe that if they can challenge the veracity of her testimony, chances of an acquittal are good.
The second main contention employed by Katsav’s lawyers is that the lower court judges were unable to shield themselves from the public trial and media attention that Katsav underwent throughout the past five years. They claim that the judges were swayed by the calls of the public, as well as the statements made by prosecution lawyers, and especially by former attorney-general Menachem Mazuz, to find him guilty.
“The appellant entered the courtroom with the mark of a serial rapist on
his forehead, like the mark of Cain,” said Feldman, “a mark that the
judges were unable to ignore.”
Katsav’s lawyers also requested the Supreme Court to allow the appeal
request to be made open to the public in its entirety, despite the fact
that much of the material dealt with testimony heard while the trial was
held behind closed doors. The court gave the state until Thursday to
respond, before reaching a decision. Until a decision is reached the
details of the appeal will remain under publication ban and treated as
in camera motions.
What can be reported is that the appeal deals extensively with the
credibility of Alef and the question of whether it is was possible to
prove that force, of any degree was used, justifying a rape conviction.
Katsav’s media advisor Amnon Shomron said that from recent talks with
Katsav, he could tell that the tension was peaking as the sentence date
“Everyone understands what is about to happen,” Shomron said. “He and
the family have had a chance to get used to the idea, but as the date
approaches the pressure is nearing its height.”
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