As Katsav Verdict Nears, Tension Trumps Bid for Normalcy

As Katsav prepares to find out whether he will be convicted of rape or other sex crimes, he has been fielding many calls of support and making an effort to go out in public.

As former President Moshe Katsav waits to hear whether he will be convicted of sex crimes when the Tel Aviv District Court hands down its verdict tomorrow, he has continued to take part in public activities. However, friends say much of his life revolves around the trial, leaving him tense and anxious.

"He is very very tense and very very stressed," said one friend. "It's obvious he has been under a lot of pressure over the last few days."

As Katsav prepares to find out whether he will be convicted of rape or the other sex crimes of which his former employees have accused him, he has been fielding many calls of support and making an effort to go out in public, the friend said.

He has been attending family events and taking walks in his Kiryat Malakhi neighborhood as well as attending synagogue as normal. He has also visited the family of a firefighter who recently died of injuries sustained while fighting the Carmel blaze.

But that doesn't mean the Katsav family has forgotten what lies ahead.

"The entire family is living with the knowledge that the court will be determining his fate," said a family friend. "Over the last few months, they have all been very tense."

The friend said family life "revolves around the trial," adding, "Katsav himself is always busy collecting evidence and writing down ideas he thinks will help him deal with the charges. Everyone is dedicating themselves completely to coping with this complex situation."

Katsav stands accused of two counts of rape, indecent behavior and sexual harassment. He is also accused of harassing a witness and obstructing justice. The women who filed complaints against him have been identified in the press only as A. from the Tourism Ministry, and H. and L. from the President's Residence.

The trial itself, which began last year, has been held behind closed doors, and few details have been leaked to the public.

Associates of the former president said they couldn't tell whether the judges appeared to find Katsav's defense persuasive.

"All in all, we're under the impression that on a legal level, Katsav is in a good position," said one. "The problem, from our perspective, is the public realm, where he is viewed as having committed the offenses of which he is accused. We wonder whether the judges will succeed in neutralizing their own feelings and the major public pressure and will rely on the legal arguments alone."

The trial has proved to be a large burden on Katsav's finances. Some of his relatives have sold assets or delved into their savings to help fund the costs of the trial, which someone close to Katsav estimated this week at coming to between NIS 2 million and NIS 3 million.

"The funding was not based just on cash taken out of the bank, but also on family members' sales of their private property," he said. "You have to remember that Katsav has older children now who helped raise money."

Friends and acquaintances said this week they were disappointed by the amount of money that rolled in.

In 2007 Katsav supporters and relatives set up a non-profit organization aimed at raising money to fund Katsav's defense, including lawyer fees, a search for exculpatory evidence, and the creation of a positive public image. But the group didn't raise as much money as its founders had hoped.

"We managed to raise donations of a few hundred thousand dollars," said a source close to the former president. "That wasn't enough to cover expenses."

The source said most of the donations were made in the first few months, but that "less and less money" has been coming in as the trial wore on.