Judges in Katsav Case Hint at Lenient Sentence Because of Media Backlash

Tel Aviv court publishes full version of verdict against former president.

The Tel Aviv District Court yesterday released a fuller version of the text of its verdict convicting former president Moshe Katsav of rape.

The newly disclosed portions of the ruling indicate that the court may be more lenient when it comes to sentencing Katsav because of the media backlash against him. Katsav was convicted at the end of December on charges that included two counts of rape, as well as indecent assault and sexual harassment.

In their verdict, the judges hinted that, although the media coverage was not grounds for withdrawing the indictment against Katsav, it could be taken into account at the sentencing. "We are not ignoring the mental anguish the accused suffered as a result of the relentless flood of harsh reporting against him in the media, declaring him a sex offender before the trial," the three judges - George Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevach - wrote. "We don't exclude the possibility that the matter will be raised again later on," they added.

The judges cited a previous court ruling as a precedent that the issue be taken into consideration, in the interest of justice, at the sentencing.

The court called the media coverage unprecedented but also took Katsav to task in this regard, saying the former president adapted himself to the same kind of conduct that was directed at him. In addition, the judges condemned the former attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, who they said had expressed his views about Katsav's conduct even before an indictment had been filed.

Katsav's victims, other court witnesses and public figures were also criticized for making public statements to the effect that Katsav was guilty.

The court also sharply condemned Katsav's close associate, Uri Yoeli, for attempting to silence Katsav's victims and collecting evidence against them.

The version of the verdict released yesterday is consistent with the summary released at the end of December, but it is richer in details about Katsav's conduct on the job and in quotes from witnesses, including the victims. Surprisingly, however, the fuller verdict is still sparse in direct quotes from Katsav's trial testimony.

The court described Katsav's testimony at his trial as lacking in authenticity and candor.

The basis for the verdict appears to have been the court's confidence in the credibility of the former president's accusers and the total lack of credibility of Katsav's testimony. While the judges took the former president to task for discrepancies and contradictions in his account of events, they showed leniency and understanding when it came to discrepancies in the testimony of his victims.

Regarding the account by the central witness and one of Katsav's victims, known as A. from the Tourism Ministry, who worked in the office while Katsav was tourism minister, the judges said they were impressed that her testimony was the "account of a victim of a sexual offense."

The court could not have been more explicit about Katsav's lack of credibility. The judges wrote that Katsav was convicted "because the court has ascribed full credibility to the complainant's version, while the version of the accused has been found to be false." Though only minor details were deleted from the verdict released yesterday to protect the privacy of the complainants, Katsav's media adviser, Amnon Shomron, urged the court to reveal additional evidence, including trial transcripts, subject to deletions of the complainants' identities. Shomron said this was necessary so that the public could gain "unmediated and genuine impressions of the testimonies and evidentiary material."

Katsav denied throughout the trial that he had had even consensual sexual relations with the complainants, though his lawyers allowed for such a possibility in their summations. The court concluded that there was no evidentiary basis for the argument that the sexual contact alleged in the case was by consent.

Katsav's friend, businessman Uri Yoeli, is described as having made efforts to silence Katsav's victims and head off their filing of police complaints. He is also said to have attempted to calm them down. Yoeli later recorded the victims and attempted to come to an agreement with them that they would not disclose their allegations against Katsav. He is said to have carried out the efforts with Katsav's knowledge and in an effort to obscure Katsav's involvement in attempts to keep things quiet.

Yoeli's involvement, as described in court, was unusual by any measure. Although he is a private businessman, he was said to have been an almost constant presence at the Tourism Ministry when Katsav was tourism minister, even traveling abroad with Katsav on official trips. One ministry employee described Yoeli's influence at the ministry as greater than that of Katsav's professional assistants, saying he was know to give orders to professional staff.

In their trial testimony, the former president and Yoeli downplayed their ties. Both acknowledged their friendship, but they both also denied that Yoeli was a confidant of Katsav's. In her testimony, A. from the Tourism Ministry said Yoeli had dozens of discussions with her, most at his initiative, in a purported effort for her to leave the ministry quietly. At one point, Yoeli is said to have offered her a job, after Katsav became president, at the president's office.