Katsav arrives at court for verdict in his appeal

After three months of deliberation, the Supreme Court will announce the former president's fate after hearing his final appeal, almost a year after he was convicted of rape, sexual harassment, indecent act.

Katsav at supreme court_311 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Katsav at supreme court_311
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Former president Moshe Katsav arrived at the Supreme Court Thursday morning as a panel of justices was set to announce the verdict in his final appeal. The former president greeted family members already inside the courtroom.
The verdict will be announced almost a year after the former head of state was convicted of two counts of rape, two counts of sexual harassment, an indecent act using force and obstruction of justice.
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Katsav's wife was noticeably absent from the courtroom.
The panel of justices – Miriam Naor, Edna Arbel and Salim Joubran – will announce their decision at 9 a.m., following three months of deliberations after hearing Katsav’s appeal in August.
Although the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced Katsav to seven years in prison, Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger agreed in May to a request by Katsav’s defense lawyers to postpone his punishment until after his appeal process.
Unless the Supreme Court overturns the lower court’s verdict and sentence on Thursday, Katsav will begin that prison term. However, should the court uphold the guilty verdict and sentence, his lawyers are expected to request a further postponement of several weeks, and it is not expected that the former president would be taken to prison from the court.
Following his appeal in August, Katsav’s defense team expressed optimism about the verdict, but criminal law experts have been more guarded.
In an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday, retired judge Hayuta Kochan said that while the Supreme Court might make small changes to the lower court’s verdict, it was unlikely that the justices would overturn it.
“This is a routine and factual case, the likes of which the Supreme Court justices have heard dozens of times before,” Kochan said. “They may make small changes, but it’s hard to imagine that we will see a radical change.”
Criminal law expert Yoram Shachar, a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that while it was not appropriate to speculate or make predictions about the ruling, it was worth noting that the court accepted as many as a third of appeals against lower-court rulings.
“As an appellate court, Israel’s Supreme Court is very active,” Shachar said.
Katsav’s defense team did not present any new evidence in his appeal, although this is usual when the Supreme Court is asked to reexamine the evidence presented to a lower court.
However, over the three days of the appeal hearings, the former president’s lawyers represented a line of defense that asked the three justices to consider a scenario in which Katsav had not raped his former employee at the Tourism Ministry, identified only as “Alef,” but instead had a “romance” with her.
“Katsav’s lawyers raised as a hypothesis the possibility that he had a sexual relationship [with Alef],” Shachar said.
“That really surprised everyone. The court really hated it. They said, ‘If that is the truth then let the defendant say it.’” Katsav, however, has consistently denied any sexual relationship with Alef.
Shachar said another problem for Katsav had been his attitude during the legal proceedings.
“Katsav was insolent in court, he refused to show any humility,” said Shachar, who added that people surrounding the former president had also contributed to creating a “halo of insolence” around him.
While Katsav himself did not give fresh testimony before the Supreme Court – although this is usually done in appeals – his defense attorney Avigdor Feldman described Alef’s versions as a “puzzle” – the pieces of which had been arranged by the prosecution and accepted by the district court to reveal a picture of a rape.
Using a detailed timeline of events and telephone records before and after the alleged rapes, the defense argued that Alef and Katsav had a relationship that “went beyond the professional,” but was nevertheless consensual.
However, even if the court did accept the defense’s arguments that Katsav and Alef had a romance of the sort suggested by the defense, while less severe than rape, that relationship would be considered “forbidden consensual sex” under Israeli law, because Katsav, then the tourism minister, was Alef’s employer.
Sarah Ben-David, professor of criminology at Ariel University Center of Samaria and an expert in sex offender rehabilitation, noted it was very common for those convicted of sex crimes to deny charges against them.
Convicted sex offenders are offered treatment programs in prison.
However, if the Supreme Court does rule on Thursday to uphold the lower court’s verdict and Katsav is sent to prison, he would have to admit his guilt and express remorse before being eligible for any sex offenders’ treatment program, Ben-David said.
In answer to speculations that the former president could be a suicide risk in the event that his conviction was upheld and he was imprisoned, Ben- David said this was not likely.
“Katsav is so sure he is not guilty,” said Ben-David. “That would strengthen him in prison as part of his struggle for justice.”
The Post has learned that the Prisons Service is not dealing with the matter of Katsav’s potential imprisonment until after the Supreme Court has announced its decision on Thursday morning.
Only then, and depending on what that verdict is, will the Prisons Service prepare to receive the former president like any other prisoner, according to the criteria set during that preparation process.