Katsav's Lawyer: Press Conference Won't Affect Trial

Ex-president's media advisors resign; Justice Ministry: Katsav turning case into media circus.

Moshe Katsav's attorney Avigdor Feldman said on Friday that the press conference given by the former president, in which he launched a diatribe against Israel's law enforcement authorities, would not affect the impending trial against him.

"I see my client's public appearance as external to the legal proceeding," Feldman told Army Radio. "It is a personal measure the former president took to face the State Prosecution, the media and the public."

For nearly three hours on Thursday, the former president responded to allegations of serious sex offenses leveled against him, in the wake of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's decision to indict him for rape, among other charges.

"Katsav chose a desperate path, that was quite obviously not going to be well accepted," Feldman continued.

Feldman insisted that the decision to sign a plea bargain, on which Katsav later backtracked, was "completely mutual," and had not been imposed on the former president like he argued in the press conference.

"It was a process that came into being during the hearing, when it became increasingly clear that this case will not result in the desired indictment," Feldman said.

Like his client, Feldman also criticized Mazuz, saying that the Attorney General was "too quick" to indict the former president.

"Katsav was subject to baseless gossip and rumors, which led Mazuz to believe that they must have a grain of truth," he said.

Katsav's media advisors resign

Following the press conference on Thursday, Katsav's media advisors resigned.

Ronen Tzur and Motti Morell had recommended that the conference only last for half an hour, while it actually went on for almost three hours.

"Following essential differences of approach toward the running of the press conference, we announced tonight to Mr Katsav that we cannot continue to contribute on a professional level. We believe in his complete innocence and wish him a full acquittal, which is what we believe he deserves," the pair said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the press conference evoked harsh responses from the Justice Ministry and women's groups.

The Justice Ministry accused Katsav of trying to turn his upcoming indictment for sex crimes into a "media circus" at a press conference Thursday.

"Katsav's attempt to turn his trial into a media circus shows he has lost control and violates the basic norms of behavior," a ministry spokesman said.

Katsav, who faces rape charges, accused the legal establishment of using the media to determine his case and said that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz had leaked information to journalists.

The Justice Ministry said, "Katsav's speech was riddled with false accusations and distorted facts as part of an uncontrolled personal slander campaign against the attorney general and law enforcement heads."

Mazuz said earlier that Katsav's campaign was also intended to thwart the proper conduct of the legal processes.

Women's organizations Thursday reacted with disgust to Katsav's attack.

"Katsav's statement, backed by a battery of lawyers and public relations people, is pathetic and repulsive," said Nira Bartal, chair of the Israel Women's Network.

"A man charged with rape and severe sexual offenses should make his statements in the Supreme Court, not in Kiryat Malachi," she said. "The cynical, contemptible speech we heard tonight proves that Katsav is continuing the modus operandi he had as minister and president - exploiting power and authority to intimidate the justice system and the complainants."

She urged everyone to support the women, who filed complaints against Katsav, for their courage and resolve, despite the attempts to slander them and undermine their credibility.

"We're tired of hearing of Katsav's tirade against the police, the prosecution and the victims," said Michal Rozin, director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. "We demand to put an end to the miscarriage of justice done to the victims and the whole public, which is forced to hear this contemptible slander and claims of conspiracy and discrimination. The public isn't stupid, it wants the court to decide what the truth is. We're confident the court will identify the conduct of a cowardly serial sex offender."

Naamat chair Talia Livni said it was a pity Katsav took the bad advice his counselors gave him to "lash out at the justice system of the state he once headed. Having chosen to hold his trial in the street, Katsav should not be surprised if the public hangs him in the city square."

"Even 100 public relations experts won't save him now. It's time this defendant had his day in court," she said.

Earlier Thursday, Mazuz accused Katsav's attorneys of running a wild public relations campaign in a bid to delegitimize the legal system.

Mazuz said the campaign was also intended to thwart the proper conduct of the legal processes.

In a letter relayed to the attorneys by a senior aide of Mazuz's, the attorney general said that he, the state prosecution and law enforcement officials "would not be deterred from doing their jobs and their duty professionally, loyally and fairly."

The letter was sent in response to a request earlier Thursday by Katsav's legal team for Mazuz to order an investigation into the release of material from the police probe of the former president.

Mazuz added that when the "slander festival" was over, it would be possible to hold a real investigation in court over the transfer of the material.