President Moshe Katsav and his defense attorneys believe that there is a only a slight chance that a hearing would change Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's decision to indict the president on a series of charges, including rape.

Mazuz decided in principle Tuesday that President Moshe Katsav would face charges for rape, sexual harassment, obstruction of justice, fraud and breach of trust, pending a hearing on the issue.

At a press conference earlier on Tuesday, Katsav's attorneys made a point of emphasizing their strong belief that Mazuz would change his mind and rescind the indictment following the hearing.

As a result of Mazuz's decision, Katsav is expected to announce on Wednesday that he is suspending himself immediately, though the decision to indict him will not be final until after Mazuz has granted him a hearing, which is expected to happen within the next three months. His attorneys, David Libai and Zion Amir, said that he plans to "fight to prove his innocence."

Mazuz's announcement provoked a spate of demands, from both the political world and the general public, that Katsav resign immediately, rather than suspending himself now and resigning only if Mazuz confirms the decision to indict after the hearing. It also marked the onset of the race to become the next president.

The four women whom Katsav is accused of sexually assaulting include three past and present employees of the President's Residence and one who worked under Katsav during his tenure as tourism minister, in 1998-1999. Mazuz also plans to charge the president with giving away cups that belonged to the President's Residence at private events, as well as with obstruction of justice and harassing a witness, for trying to pressure one of the President's Residence employees to retract her complaint against him.

The rape charge involves A., the former Tourism Ministry employee. Katsav will also be charged with forcible indecent acts against her.

In the case of a second A., who worked in Katsav's office at the President's Residence in 2003 - 2004, Mazuz decided not to accept the police's recommendation that he indict the president for rape. Instead, Katsav will be charged with exploiting his status as her employer to have sex with her, as well as with indecent acts and sexual harassment.

In the case of the two other President's Residence employees, Katsav will be charged with indecent acts that involved exploiting his status as an employer and sexual harassment.

With regard to a fifth complainant, the prosecution decided that there was no case, and with regard to five additional complainants, the statute of limitations on the relevant sexual offenses had already expired. However, the Justice Ministry said, these five might nevertheless be asked to testify against Katsav in court in order to demonstrate his modus operandi.

Mazuz decided not to charge Katsav with either irregularities in his process of granting pardons or illegal wiretapping, though the police had recommended indicting him on both these counts. According to the Justice Ministry, the evidence was insufficient to sustain an indictment on either of these charges.

With regard to the wiretapping accusations, legal sources explained that while equipment had been installed that allowed the president to eavesdrop on phone calls made by anyone in the President's Residence, Katsav himself was not involved in ordering or installing this equipment. The person responsible was the director general of the President's Residence, Moshe Goral, and Mazuz has not yet decided whether to indict him.

Mazuz has also not yet decided whether to indict A., the former President's Residence employee, on charges of trying to blackmail Katsav.

Should Katsav be convicted of all the charges in the draft indictment, he is likely to spend many years in jail. Courts do not generally impose the maximum sentences permitted by law, and they often allow sentences for different crimes to be served simultaneously rather than consecutively. But given the severity of the charges - rape, for instance, carries a maximum sentence of 16 years - it is extremely unlikely that any court would make do with community service or a conditional jail sentence.

Legal sources said that Mazuz will not consent to any plea bargain in which Katsav resigns in exchange for the dropping of the charges against him.

The Justice Ministry said that Mazuz's decision on whether to indict took a long time because new material kept flowing in from both sides over the past few weeks, and is in fact still arriving. Moreover, certain matters are still under investigation, meaning that new charges could still be added to the indictment against Katsav. This can be done easily as long as the indictment has not yet been filed in court.

Now that Mazuz has made his decision, the Justice Ministry will begin transferring the evidence to Katsav's lawyers so that they can prepare for his hearing. The ministry promised on Tuesday that Mazuz will examine all the claims raised at the hearing "thoroughly and carefully, with an open mind and a willingness to be persuaded."

More on the case against Katsav Related links

  • Katsav attorney: President will fulfill promise, suspend himself
  • MKs call on Katsav to resign in wake of indictment decision

    From our pages

  • Katsav takes short leave of absence; probe turns to wire-tapping (14/09/06)
  • Katsav also accused of using state funds to buy family gifts (17/10/06)
  • Katsav succumbs to pressure, cancels Knesset appearance (16/10/06)