Moshe Katsav Jan. 1, 2011 (Ilan Assayag)
Moshe Katsav walking to synagogue on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Israel Police chief interrogator Yoav Segalovitz said Friday that it only took five minutes for him to be convinced that former president Moshe Katsav was lying to him when being questioning over sexual assault charges.

"After all, we don't rely on what the suspect says. We rely on evidence, and we collected the evidence before we got there [to the President's Residence to question Katsav]," Segalovitz said in an interview Friday on Channel 2, after Katsav was convicted Thursday on two counts of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and obstruction of justice.

Segalovitz told interviewer Yair Lapid that he had never said that Katsav "hunted his victims," but that Katsav "did hone in on them, he worked serially, methodically, he did work with a system that supported his acts, which collected evidence in case there was trouble some day. There is material like this in the evidence and the court had its say," Segalovitz said.

Over the coming month, the Tel Aviv District Court will begin the sentencing phase of Katsav's trial, during which each side will set out its arguments for or against leniency. The former president could face up to 16 years behind bars.

Witnesses may also be presented during this phase. Katsav can bring family, friends or co-workers as character witnesses who can attest to his contributions to society. The prosecution can present the complainants, who can state the damage done to them, or submit a victim impact statement.

Each side will state what it believes to be appropriate punishment, including whether moral turpitude should be imposed. An actual sentence is not usually mentioned by either party; rather, the parties present similar cases to show the range of appropriate punishment.

In the coming days, the prosecution will examine the complainants' statements to make sure that the judges have a full picture of the damage done to them, and if not, to have them testify again.

Katsav's attorney, Avigdor Feldman said yesterday that it seemed "stupid" to call character witnesses. "The court knows exactly who stands before it and what his contribution is. The court pulverized everything; it turned him into dust and ash."

Feldman criticized the way the court had formulated its verdict.

"Even when the court convicts, it uses standard expressions ... Terms like 'manipulator, crooked, gambler' ... are not used even when convicting a murderer. The court should maintain its dignity," he said.

During the sentencing phase, Katsav can speak directly to the judges, ask for leniency and express remorse for his actions. However, because he has denied committing the acts, he is unlikely to do so.

Some time after the arguments are concluded, the court will announce its verdict in a separate session. The judges said Thursday they would need about two weeks after the sentencing phase ends to decide Katsav's punishment.

After the sentence is handed down, Katsav will have 45 days to appeal to the Supreme Court, and he can ask the court to delay the start of his sentence until he does so, or even until the Supreme Court issues its ruling.

The court is not bound to accept the request, and may order Katsav to begin serving his sentence immediately.

In the case of former Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson, the court rejected his request to delay the start of his prison term.

Katsav likely has nothing to lose by appealing to the Supreme Court. The District Court convicted him of all the charges against him except witness tampering, and since the state did not appeal the verdict, there is no chance the Supreme Court will impose a harsher sentence than the District Court.

Chances for a successful Supreme Court appeal are problematic, since the District Court verdict depended mainly on the credibility of the complainant known as A. from the Tourism Ministry, and the Supreme Court does not tend to question credibility established by the lower court.

The fact that the decision was unanimous will make an appeal to the Supreme Court even more difficult.