Military prosecutors and attorneys for Brig. Gen. (res.) Ofek Buchris, who is charged with major criminal offenses including rape, have agreed to begin talks to seek mediation.
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The trial was set to begin next Thursday, with a reading of the charges against Buchris. Following the two sides’ consent to meet, the trial was postponed.
Buchris is charged by military prosecutors with 16 sex offenses against two plaintiffs. One was a soldier who served under him while the other is an officer still in service. The charge sheet alleges claims that Buchris raped soldier A. on three occasions, as well as committing sodomy and other indecent acts against her. He allegedly committed six indecent acts against the female officer. The offenses allegedly took place in his office, his military car, on the base, at his military residence and at a few other locations. One of the violations allegedly took place when he was already a brigadier general.
At the end of July, Buchris announced that he was leaving the army to “conduct the trial as a civilian and not as an officer in the standing army.” His departure at that date has financial implications for his pension as an officer. Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot was the one who accepted Buchris’ request to leave the army.
According to the IDF’s spokesman, the two sides informed the special military tribunal convened at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv that they were agreeing to the court’s suggestion to engage in a bridging process, which is similar to contacts made in arranging a plea bargain, except that it takes place in front of a senior judiciary figure.
“The meaning of agreeing to the bridging process proposed by the court, which has not yet been exposed to any evidence since this has not yet been presented, is that there is an agreement to talk. The prosecution’s interests are clear: It wishes to protect the plaintiffs from what is often called ‘a second rape on the witness stand,’” said Avital Bin-Nun and Liat Bahar-Cohen, lawyers representing A., one of the plaintiffs.
They claim that Buchris’ consent to hold negotiations is a retreat from the position he has taken until now, in which he flatly denied all the crimes attributed to him, although people close to him deny that he was now relenting. “Perhaps this is a welcome hint of him taking some responsibility. Obviously, for victims of sex offenses, it is of great significance when an accused takes responsibility,” they explained.
“As a victim the plaintiff has the right to express her opinion regarding a plea bargain, which is meant to save her from giving evidence on the witness stand. When there is a concrete plan in place the plaintiff will make her views known,” they added.
Negotiations regarding Buchris will take place in the presence of retired judge Ilan Schiff, a retired major general who served in several capacities in the army, including as president of the military appeals court and as military advocate general. Schiff left the army in 2001 and retired in 2014, after serving as a judge and as vice-president of the Haifa District Court.
The president of the special military tribunal, Col. Orly Markman, was the one who had suggested that the two sides meet before the trial opens and try to reach a deal. If the two sides strike a bargain, the panel of judges appointed to hear the case will have to decide if it is acceptable. An army source said that the plaintiffs against Buchris were updated regarding the decision to hold talks, and military prosecutors have pledged to keep them updated on the process.