Analysis: The legal options

It has only rarely, if ever, happened that an attorney-general has changed his mind and decided not to press charges following a hearing granted the suspect and his attorneys after making a preliminary decision to indict the suspect. Katsav's lawyers, David Liba'i and Zion Amir, are working hard to create the impression that this time will be different. On Wednesday, they announced they had new evidence to present to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz that would convince him not to go ahead with his plans to draw up the indictment. Amir was interviewed on Army Radio on Wednesday and asked why, if they had such persuasive evidence, he and Liba'i had not submitted it to the police or the state prosecution before Mazuz announced his decision on Tuesday. An expert in criminal law, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not rule out the possibility that Katsav's lawyers had substantive reasons for withholding the evidence until they met Mazuz face to face. On the other hand, the expert said, the lawyer's announcement might be no more than a public relations ploy, meant to counter the grim impression of their client that most people came away with after Mazuz's announcement. As for Amir himself, his response to the broadcaster's question was utterly confusing and obfuscated. At best, he seemed to indicate that he and Liba'i had not wanted to reveal their defense strategy and therefore had not presented the evidence until now. But if that is so, why reveal it before the trial to the country's number one prosecutor, who will be able to take it into consideration in preparing the state's case should he decide to indict Katsav? Earlier in the morning, a lawyer who is a close friend of Katsav charged on Army Radio that "Aleph" (the woman Katsav accused of extortion) in the past had been a prostitute. If that is the kind of "new" information the defense intends to present at the hearing, it is highly unlikely to change Mazuz's mind. Are there other ways for Katsav to head off a criminal trial? There is, after all, the precedent of his predecessor, Ezer Weizman. In return for closing the file against the president, who was suspected of receiving large sums of money from a personal benefactor, businessman Edward Seroussi, Weizman agreed to retire from office after completing two years of his second five-year term. However, given the nature of the allegations in the Katsav affair and the fact that matters have already gone as far as they have, the prosecution would have a hard time justifying any kind of arrangement with the president, short of a full-fledged trial. There are alternatives short of completely reversing Mazuz's inclination to try Katsav. Liba'i and Amir may be hoping to persuade the attorney-general to lessen the charges against Katsav, particularly the most serious charge of rape. But according to reports, senior attorneys within the Justice Ministry, including Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel, have already tried to persuade Mazuz to do so. As a result of these deliberations, the attorney-general did drop rape charges recommended by police regarding one of the women who testified against Katsav, but did not do so regarding another. The lawyers will have to provide powerful evidence to make Mazuz change his mind after he has already given the matter so much serious thought.