Katsav threatens to plead not guilty

Former president Katsav will plead not guilty to the charges in the indictment against him if the trial opens as scheduled on Tuesday, Avigdor Feldman, one of his lawyers, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. But the more likely scenario is that Feldman and Katsav's other lawyers, Zion Amir and Avraham Lavie, will ask the panel of three judges headed by Deputy Jerusalem Magistrate's Court President Shulamit Dotan for a postponement before the trial begins and that she will grant the request. Either way, Katsav will be obliged to attend the proceedings. On Monday, Katsav's lawyers and Dotan each flexed their muscles and Dotan came out the winner. The lawyers sent a notice to Dotan saying the trial had to be postponed because another judge, Ron Alexander, was in the process of hearing a separate suit calling on the state to hand over material gathered during Katsav's investigation that they had not yet seen. The state has refused to do so. Dotan replied to the brief by making clear that the lawyers could not "notify" the court that the hearing must be postponed since it is the court that decides such matters. In her decision, Dotan also ordered Katsav to appear at the hearing, which, she added, would be held as scheduled. The trial will officially begin with the reading aloud of the indictment to Katsav. But Feldman indicated that the lawyers would ask the court for a postponement in a preliminary motion before the trial begins. Should the court reject the request, the trial will begin. After reading aloud the indictment, the court will ask Katsav whether or not he pleads guilty to the charges. In these circumstances, Feldman made clear, Katsav will plead not guilty. If he does so, the plea bargain will be terminated. Feldman told the Post that the lawyers have taken that possibility into consideration. But he also knows that it is unlikely the court will want such a development to occur. The hearing on Katsav's lawyers' request for more evidence was held on Sunday, but Alexander informed the parties that it would take time before he could come to a decision. Katsav's lawyers maintain that the material they want to see could help prove that even the relatively mild charges included in the indictment reached with the state in the plea bargain were mistaken. More likely, however, they hope it will help them refute an affidavit submitted by Tourism Ministry Aleph, one of the two women cited in the indictment, in which she wrote that she still suffered from emotional problems caused by her relationship with the former president. The prosecution hopes the affidavit will help convince the judges that the crimes Katsav was charged with in the plea bargain involved moral turpitude. Such a ruling would cost the former president NIS 1.1 million per year in special benefits. They also want the material to help strengthen their arguments to persuade the court to accept the one-year suspended sentence recommended jointly by the lawyers and the state. The court is not obliged to accept the recommendation.