Moshe Katsav - Alon Ron - 22.3.2011
Ex-president Moshe Katsav in Tel Aviv after his sentencing, March 22, 2011. Photo by Alon Ron
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The High Court of Justice is to rule in the next few days on a petition by former President Moshe Katsav to delay the start of his prison sentence.

Katsav wants to remain a free man until the court rules on his appeal of his conviction on rape and other sexual offenses.

The prosecution argued yesterday that it is in the interest of the public to enforce the law and that Katsav go to jail immediately, as would any person convicted of such serious offenses.

But Katsav's lawyers argued that their client could very well be found innocent on appeal and that serious damage could be done to Katsav and to the institution of the presidency if he is sent to jail now.

Katsav, who was sentenced to seven years in jail, came to the hearing accompanied by his children and other relatives. He reportedly shouted several remarks from his seat in the audience when he felt statements by the prosecutors needed correcting.

Katsav's attorney, Avigdor Feldman told the court that his client should remain free not only because of the damage the humiliation of his incarceration would do but because it was clear to all that he posed no danger and was not a flight risk. Feldman also pointed out that no restrictions had been placed on Katsav during or before his trial and that the former president had no intention of abandoning his legal fight.

Feldman said the District Court had made a serious mistake in refusing to consider the possibility that relations had been consensual between Katsav and the woman known as A. from the Tourism Ministry.

Feldman said that although Katsav had denied any relationship with A. other than one of an employer and an employee, A.'s testimony and the New Year's greeting she wrote him, which included expressions of love, reveal a possibility other than rape.

Feldman said the District Court had rejected this argument because the defense attorneys had raised it only during closing arguments and Katsav himself had earlier denied the possibility that the two were romantically involved.

Feldman said the District Court had not accepted the alternative scenario because it "had a clear direction behind which did not stand the presumption of innocence, but rather, the presumption of guilt."

The prosecutor, Peter Aryeh, told the High Court yesterday that legally speaking, the Katsav case was very ordinary and that the former president should be sent immediately to jail to preserve public faith in the criminal justice system.

"The principle of equality before the law will be impaired if the public sees Katsav continuing to take walks in the market," Aryeh said.

Attorneys Ronit Amiel and Nissim Merom defended the prosecution's position in the District Court, saying that there was no chance that A. invented the story about the two times Katsav raped her. She told the police about them when she first filed her complaint, and her testimony was supported by other witnesses whom she told about the rapes, while Katsav changed his story to such an extent that the District Court concluded he was lying.