All in Favor / 'Moral' Conviction Would Cost Katsav Millions

Former president Moshe Katsav will receive a NIS 1.1 million annually from the state for a car, driver and office, among other benefits, if the court does not rule that the offenses enumerated in his plea bargain involve moral turpitude.

The High Court of Justice decided yesterday to approve Katsav's plea bargain, in which he admitted to only minor sexual offenses, including one count of indecent assault and one of sexual harassment, with no mention of moral turpitude, and the deal would give Katsav a suspended sentence rather than actual jail time. He was originally accused of having raped a woman who worked for him, among other offenses.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is slated to ask the court to rule that the offenses involve moral turpitude. Katsav opposes this and could withdraw from the plea bargain over the issue.

"The attorney general must not take part in the audacity of Katsav's attorneys, who argue that these offenses do not involve moral turpitude," says MK Haim Oron (Meretz-Yahad), who heads the Knesset's Ethics Committee. "Not imposing moral turpitude on former president Moshe Katsav means giving Katsav an annual budget from the state for his entire life for services that Katsav needs to provide for the public, which doesn't want them at all."

The budget includes NIS 1,000 a month for hosting expenses and funds for a furnished 140-meter office. One politician objected, saying, "It's not certain that, as former president, he will be in demand as a guest at schools, and therefore the state doesn't have to fund an office for him."

The budget also goes toward Katsav's Kiryat Malakhi home, two to three assistants, a landline and cell phone, and hospitalization and medical care for Katsav and his wife. Katsav is slated to receive the benefits for the rest of his life. The Knesset Finance Committee decided in 2006 that the benefits would apply for only seven years after the president leaves office, rather than for his entire life, but the change begins with Shimon Peres, the first president to follow Katsav.

In addition to his presidential benefits, Katsav is also eligible for a NIS 48,000 a month due to his past public service as minister and MK.

The Finance Committee decided last year, in response to a 2006 TheMarker report that Katsav would be eligible for state benefits even if he were convicted, that presidents and prime ministers convicted of offenses involving moral turpitude would not receive benefits from the state.