Jurists call for probe into A-G's office

Warning that the plea bargain deal reached with President Moshe Katsav "will have catastrophic effects in terms of the public belief in the rule of law," former justice minister Amnon Rubinstein blasted Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's office Thursday, calling on the government to establish a commission to review the office's practices. "If the original indictment was well-founded then the deal is highly unwarranted. But if, on the other hand, the public allegations which received worldwide attention that the president of Israel had committed rape were unsubstantiated and unsupported by evidence, then great damage has been done to the country, as well as the office of the president," Rubinstein said hours after Mazuz made his announcement. Rubinstein added that "this is one in a long line of such allegations made by the State's Attorney and Attorney's-General's office which were later proved to be inaccurate." Rubinstein recommended that the government appoint a commission to probe the way that the Attorney-General's Office decides whether or not to file indictments in key cases. A precedent, he said, always exists for such a committee - the Agranat Commission which delivered its findings in 1962 dealt with the selfsame question. "Such a committee would serve to quell public doubts as to the performance of the Justice Ministry," said Rubinstein. The 1962 commission concluded that though the attorney-general's rulings should be regarded as reflecting the existing law, the government is entitled to decide how it should act in a given case in accordance with its own judgment. Yoram Shachar, professor of Criminal Law at Herzliya's Interdisciplinary Center, described the deal as one that will go down in history as one of the most problematic events in the history of Israeli law enforcement. "The only valid reason for striking the bargain under the unique circumstances of the case could be serious deficiency [of evidence] against the president." Shachar pointed out the complete turnaround Mazuz had made since his announcement to the public that the president would stand trial only half a year ago. "I hope that the dominant reason for the bargain was indeed a lack of evidence and nothing else. But if so, very serious doubts must be raised about the handling of the case so far," said Shachar. "I therefore hope that his only consideration was indeed lack of evidence," he added. "At best the result is extremely confusing to the public," he continued, "...far more so than in the case of Haim Ramon. It takes a unique talent to leave so few satisfied. If there is any mission today for the unique post of attorney-general, it is to lead, heal and clarify. "If this is the case, then Mazuz's decision is a colossal failure," concluded Shachar.