Katsav will not be the only one on trial

The way the Moshe Katsav case has been handled does not leave us feeling proud of our legal system.

katsav angry as hell 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
katsav angry as hell 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Former president Moshe Katsav is to be indicted anew on rape charges. The trial date and venue - either the Tel Aviv or Jerusalem District Courts - have obviously not been determined. But whatever the outcome, the prosecution's shoddy handling of the entire sordid affair will probably taint the judgment's legitimacy. We say this without taking sides on the guilt or innocence of the accused. The facts of this case must be examined in open court, as they should have been to begin with. The flaw in this case is that the evidence was not brought to the court in a timely fashion; nor was meticulous attention paid to the legal rights of the accused. In other systems of jurisprudence, such mishandling would probably have served as grounds for dismissal of the charges. THE KATSAV affair began on July 5, 2006, when Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz met with the president, at Katsav's request, to hear him complain of a blackmail attempt (by "Aleph" from Beit Hanassi) involving sexual impropriety. The next day, news of the meeting was leaked to the press - by whom, we have unfortunately never learned. Mazuz decided that Katsav was indeed guilty of sexual harassment, or worse. And in October 2006, the police recommended that Katsav be charged with rape. On January 23, 2007, Mazuz announced he would soon indict Katsav. Subsequently, however, Mazuz's confidence in his case evaporated and he opted for a plea bargain. To defend this controversial move, he argued to the Supreme Court that the case against Katsav was flimsy because the main witness against him - Aleph from Beit Hanassi - was unreliable. Katsav then checkmated Mazuz by backing out of the plea bargain deal. In retribution, a shamefaced prosecution threatened Katsav that his comeuppance would be a return to the original rape charges. That didn't come too quickly, either. The initial offer of a plea bargain, it emerged, had been prompted by profound misgivings within the prosecution. So intense were the qualms and disagreements among Jerusalem District prosecutors that the case was eventually reassigned to the Central District Prosecution, which harbored even greater reservations about it. With justice thus delayed for almost three years, pressure mounted on the prosecution, and the harm to its prestige intensified. It found itself "damned if you do, damned if you don't": It could not afford to press ahead, and lose; but nor could it abandon the case because of the furor that would generate. If their goal was to salvage the reputation of their office, prosecutors may have concluded that their best option was to go to trial since avoiding a trial would subject them to a storm of ridicule. And popular sentiment might increase the chance of winning. Suspicion that such extraneous considerations tilted the scales is reinforced by the claim that the deciding factor in favor of re-indicting Katsav for rape was State Attorney Moshe Lador's interview with another "Aleph," - from the Tourism Ministry - who reportedly impressed him as completely credible. The indictment that is now looming relates to this woman's period of work for Katsav when he was tourism minister (1998-1999). The original Aleph, the one from Beit Hanassi, has said she too is prepared to testify. But if Lador's intuition is indeed so superb, why wasn't his acumen put to use earlier? Why wasn't his conversation with Tourism Ministry Aleph held long ago? Why was the buck passed from one prosecution district to another? BESIDES the anguish caused to both defendant and plaintiff, perhaps the greatest victim of the prosecution's protracted zigzagging is ordinary citizens' faith in the system. Justice is never an absolute. It is only as good as the people's trust in it. The prosecution's conduct leaves us uneasy. The public deserves a justice system unfettered by inappropriate influences, whether they are public opinion, media frenzy or the legal establishment's quest for popular approval. We expect Israel's jurists, prosecutors and police to operate with the utmost professionalism and impartiality. The way the Moshe Katsav case has been handled does not, to put it bluntly, leave us feeling proud or confident of our legal system.