Katsav Rape Trial Opens; Evidence Stage Begins Sept. 1

On the first day of the alleged sex offenses trial of former president Moshe Katsav, his defense attorney said he could not respond to allegations against Katsav because the defense team was not given sufficient time to prepare. Katsav nonetheless denied the allegations.

Defense attorney Zion Amir said his team received investigation material from the Public Prosecutor's Office only two days before the hearing. The prosecutor, Ronit Amiel, said this was because of "a technical difficulty."

One of the three judges at the Tel Aviv District Court, George Karra, said he "would go into the subject." Amir said he was "not trying to gain an extension." The judges gave Katsav's team 30 days to submit a full response - as is customary in court. However the judges declined to rule on a request by the prosecution to close the proceedings to the public and press, noting that a decision would be made after Katsav's full response to the allegations was submitted.

Katsav was indicted for two charges of rape and one charge of sexual assault against a Tourism Ministry employee identified as A., one charge of sexual harassment of President's Residence employee H., and the indecent assault and sexual harassment of L., also a President's Residence employee. Katsav was also charged with obstructing justice by allegedly trying to glean information from L. on investigative proceedings.

Before entering the court yesterday morning, the former president paused to deliver a short statement to awaiting television cameras. "A year ago I decided to forgo a plea bargain which was defined as 'light,'" he said. "I did this to fight to prove my innocence. Here I will not be sentenced without being heard, without being seen and without reviewing the materials of the investigation."

Amir said at the entrance to the courtroom that he hoped media bias against his client would not affect the trial. Katsav's wife, Gila, and his other attorney, Avigdor Feldman, were not present.

The case was presided over by a panel of criminal-law experts, including Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevach. Amir told them his client was "very well versed" in the details of the indictment, and reading it would not be necessary. "Our position is an absolute denial of all the charges against Mr. Katsav," he said. "This is absolutely certain and is not going to change."

The defense team claims that police have collected new investigation material that they have not been given enough time to study. The defense team also asked for more time to prepare between deliberations.

Currently, the parties are scheduled to convene four times a week. "There's a big problem and we ask for the court's cooperation," Amir said. He explained that a more laxed schedule would help "conduct the trial in a matter-of-fact and fair manner." Judge Karra overruled this request, saying: "I am not about to spread this case over a long period."

Karra ruled that evidence will be reviewed starting September 1, and the trial will continue on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The judge gave the defense 30 days to respond to the allegations or make preliminary statements.

Feldman entered the courtroom toward the end of the session, after being interviewed by Army Radio. Asked during the interview whether Katsav erred in declining the plea bargain, Feldman said his answer is twofold: private and legal. "In my sphere, which is the legal sphere, Katsav made a mistake. But in his personal sphere, it appears he did not."

On Wednesday, Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch rejected Katsav's request to relocate the trial to the Jerusalem or Be'er Sheva district courts. Katsav filed the request on the grounds that a change of venue would be bring the trial closer to his residence in Kiryat Malakhi.