Mazuz: Katsav's conduct is shocking

A-G to file much harsher indictment against former president's after his rejection of plea bargain.

Katsav 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Katsav 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The legal procedures in the case of former president Moshe Katsav took a giant step backward on Tuesday, when Katsav informed the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court that he was withdrawing from the plea bargain he signed with the state prosecution on June 28, 2007. "I want to fight for my innocence," Katsav told a panel of three judges headed by Deputy Court President Shulamit Dotan. "I want to put an end to the persecution, and fight so the truth will emerge. I am choosing the difficult path, and I understand its implications. I have been thinking about this for a long time, and it was finalized in my mind today." In response to Katsav's announcement, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz indicated that he would file a much harsher indictment against the former president than the one he had negotiated with Katsav's lawyers, Zion Amir, Avigdor Feldman and Avraham Lavie. "Katsav's conduct is shocking," Mazuz said in a written response. "At any rate, it can be assumed that the implications of his decision are clear to him. As you recall, the state said in its response to the High Court of Justice [regarding petitions calling for the cancellation of the plea bargain] that it had clearly leaned toward filing an indictment that would have included the most serious charges that he was suspected of, despite the difficulties we foresaw. "Now that the plea bargain has been canceled, the state prosecution will shortly make the decision that is unavoidable under the circumstances," Mazuz wrote. Katsav told the court his decision to withdraw had nothing to do with the fact that another Jerusalem Magistrate's Court judge, Ron Alexander, had not yet decided whether to grant his lawyers' request to receive alleged evidence that the prosecution had refused to hand over. A few minutes earlier, after Feldman made the initial announcement that Katsav was withdrawing from the plea bargain, Dotan asked if the decision had to do with the dispute between the lawyers and the prosecution over the withheld material. She said if that were the case, the court could postpone the trial until Alexander handed down his verdict. Amir asked for time to consult on the matter, but Katsav was adamant. "My decision has nothing to do with the fact that the court hasn't decided whether to provide us with the material," he told the court. Jerusalem District Attorney Irit Baumgarten then stood up and announced that the state was withdrawing the indictment. "We regret the inconsistent conduct of the defense," she added. "We are going back to the point we were at before the plea bargain was signed." "If that is the case," replied Dotan, "since the prosecution has withdrawn the indictment, the court has no choice but to cancel the trial." Katsav informed his lawyers at 1 p.m., one hour before the hearing was scheduled to begin, of his decision to withdraw from the plea bargain. The lawyers informed Mazuz at 1:30 p.m.; Katsav did not arrive at the courthouse until 2:20 p.m. Members of his family, including his brother, Lior, and at least two of his sons, waited for him inside the small courtroom, which was packed with family members, journalists and prosecutors. Katsav's wife, Gila, entered the courtroom in front of him. The former president was dressed in a suit and carefully groomed. He looked serious most of the time but smiled briefly. Katsav refused to talk to reporters on his way in or out of the courtroom and left it to his lawyers to address the media at the end of the hearing, which lasted only a few minutes. On his way into the courthouse, the former president was greeted by dozens of protesters, mostly women, who called him a rapist and demanded that he be convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude. They cheered when they heard he had withdrawn from the plea bargain. Another observer who was pleased with the decision was attorney Moshe Meroz, who represents "Tourism Ministry Aleph," the key witness in the case against Katsav. According to the draft indictment, which the state later dropped in favor of the plea bargain, the former president was accused of raping her twice. "The president did the right thing because his guilty plea would not have been genuine or sincere," said Meroz. "He was not at peace with the plea bargain and agreed to it with a wink of the eye [indicating that he did not really mean it]." Tourism Ministry Aleph submitted an affidavit to the prosecution in which she described the alleged psychological damage she had suffered as a result of her relationship with Katsav. She would likely have been called to the stand and been questioned by the former president's lawyers regarding her allegations in the affidavit. Now, however, if there is a trial, she will be exposed to much fiercer cross-examination by Amir, Feldman and Lavie. "She would have preferred not to have to take the witness stand, but she is absolutely ready to do so," said Meroz. Just before the plea bargain was signed in June, Tourism Ministry Aleph said she opposed it. Attorney Eldad Yaniv, who represents the first plaintiff against Katsav, "Beit Hanassi Aleph." wrote to Mazuz Tuesday evening, asking him to consider including his client in the final indictment against Katsav. In its plea bargain with Katsav, the state had decided to drop the charges involving her altogether because of alleged contradictions in her testimony. Outside, in the courthouse hallway after the hearing, Feldman explained why his client had withdrawn from the plea bargain. "The president's decision took shape during the past month after he asked us once more whether the evidence proved his guilt. We reexamined it and told him that it did not. We believe that on the basis of the evidence, Katsav is innocent. This was the same conclusion we reached before the hearing [in May]. Then, too, we argued that Katsav was innocent. From the moment we signed the plea bargain, he has been consumed by regret," he said. Asked by reporters how Katsav could change his mind after defending the plea bargain during lengthy hearings in the High Court of Justice, Feldman replied, "We did not initiate the petitions, and the fact is that all of the justices were critical of the plea bargain. Listen, everyone [referring to the protesters outside] is shouting, 'We want a trial.' So now they'll have a trial." Outside, as the satisfied protesters packed up their signs, Yifat Mansour, the legal adviser of the Women's Network, told The Jerusalem Post, "I am pleased. We argued all along that there should be a trial. The plea bargain did a great injustice to the complainants and to potential complainants. It's just a shame we had to suffer this entire year. Katsav decided to toy with us." The Movement for Quality Government, one of the petitioners against the plea bargain, issued a statement saying, "It is better this way. Now the truth will be able to come out in the full gravity of the evidence as assessed by the state prosecution before the attorney-general signed the plea bargain."