Former President's Trial Marked by Litany of Claims and Denials

The plea bargain was hit with a barrage of Supreme Court petitions, but all six were rejected and the court ruled it would not intervene with AG's lenient decision.

The Katsav affair exploded into public consciousness on Saturday, July 8, 2006. Channel 2 journalist Amnon Abramovich told his viewers that the president, Moshe Katsav, had met earlier that week with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and complained that a former office manager of his was trying to blackmail him through claiming he sexually abused her. The report said Katsav told Mazuz he wanted to file a complaint against the woman, later to be known as "'A' from the President's Residence," for slander and blackmail.

The former president, for his part, denied the report and said he meets from time to time with various senior officials. Mazuz, on the other hand, ignored the statement and instead announced he did indeed meet the president, and heard from him about a series of events concerning a former employee at the President's Residence, and that the president gave him a letter detailing the gist of the matter. Mazuz said he asked Katsav to provide him with all the relevant documentation.

katsav - Archive / Moti Kimche - December 30 2010
Archive / Moti Kimche

In August, Katsav was already being questioned by police, while the investigators were sorting through an influx of complaints from women recounting similar stories of Katsav, as minister or as president, beginning with compliments and courting, and moving on to explicitly sexual behavior.

One of the complaints was filed by a woman known as "'A' from the Tourism Ministry," who over time alleged to police that Katsav raped her on two occasions.

In October of that year, the police came to the conclusion it had enough evidence to recommend indicting the president on several charges of sex crimes, including rape. In January 2007, Mazuz announced that he accepted the recommendation and will indict the president on all charges, pending a hearing.

The hearing, which took place in May that year, ended with the attorney general reversing his decision and sending the law enforcement system into a spin. Mazuz withdrew key elements of the indictment, giving up on the rape charges and on "'A' from the President's Residence," despite announcing in the same breath that Katsav's conduct was that of "a serial sex offender."

Friends and supporters of the complainant denounced the plea bargain as "scandalous," and said that the decision "does not make any sense in the face of 10 testimonies by 10 women describing a similar pattern of events."

The plea bargain was hit with a barrage of Supreme Court petitions, but all six were rejected and the court ruled it would not intervene with Mazuz's lenient decision.

In April 2008, however, on the very day when the plea bargain was supposed to be submitted to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, Katsav stunned Mazuz by announcing that he would withdraw from the plea bargain and instead seek to prove his innocence in court. Mazuz confirmed that the plea bargain was canceled and the case returned to the prosecution, where it was reassigned to a new prosecutor, Ronit Amiel.

In March 2009, a new indictment was submitted to the Tel Aviv District Court, focusing on the two counts of rape described in the testimony of "'A' from the Tourism Ministry," the sexual harassment against "'H' from the President's Residence," sexual harassment of "'L' from the President's Residence" and obstructing the course of justice. In an unusual move, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador himself signed the charge sheet.

According to the indictment, Katsav raped "'A' from the Tourism Ministry" twice, in April and June 1998, once in his office in Tel Aviv and once at the Plaza hotel in Jerusalem. In another instance, he allegedly arrived at her apartment and touched her breasts against her will.

In December 2005, as Katsav was celebrating his 60th birthday, he is alleged to have hugged "'L' from the President's Residence" while bringing his face close to her neck, "as if trying to smell her, with the aim of sexual arousal."

The woman left the office in tears, but a similar incident allegedly repeated itself later on. As for "H," the indictment claims Katsav hugged her for a long time on several occasions, even after she asked him to stop.

The former president denies all charges. He began his testimony in January 2010, and its content still remains under a tight gag order. Unlike the complainants, who were ushered in and out through back doors to protect their privacy, Katsav was rushed through the main doors and took care not to be seen in the dock when camera crews were allowed into the courtroom. His associates told Haaretz that he was actively involved in his defense. "He is fighting for his life and his fate. He's ready for battle and is determined to convince the system he is right."

The hearings were concluded in June, and since then the parties have been waiting for the verdict. After a year in which the trial proceeded in almost underground secrecy, today Israelis will know whether the judges have concluded that their eighth president is a sex offender.