Katsav's Lawyers: Plea Deal Proves President Was Right All Along

MKs demand that Katsav's post-retirement benefits of NIS 1 million a year be revoked.

President Moshe Katsav declared throughout his police investigation that he was not sexually involved with any of the complainants, "and these things indeed disappeared from the indictment," said Avigdor Feldman, one of Katsav's attorneys, after signing a plea bargain with the prosecution Thursday.

"President Katsav did not lie during his investigation," Feldman said, adding that the confession stemmed solely from Katsav's desire to avoid a lengthy trial on serious charges that could eat up years of his life even if he were ultimately acquitted.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has a different view: Though rape and all other charges involving intercourse were indeed dropped, Mazuz claims that Katsav's confession to sexual harassment and indecent assault under the plea bargain are tantamount to confessions of sexual involvement with the complainants.

But Feldman retorted that hugging one defendant and kissing another - to which Katsav will confess - could easily have been displays of friendly affection rather than sexual acts, as the president claimed all along.

"I told the president: For your sake, for your family's sake, swallow this bitter pill and get back to your life," Feldman said.

Asked whether the complainants had slandered Katsav, Feldman said it is hard to come to any other conclusion when two separate accusations of rape culminated merely in indictments for kissing one woman on her birthday and hugging the other around the waist.

"The president didn't hurt anyone, didn't sleep with anyone. No one would dream of beginning an investigation on the basis of the current indictment," he said, adding that the prosecution's consent to a suspended sentence ¬ "the minimum possible in such an indictment" ¬ further proved how minor the charges were.

"These are fantastic results for us," said Katsav's other attorney, Zion Amir. "For a full year, the president was facing numerous and grave charges, which received merciless expression in the press. There was unprecedented hostility toward the president. And after a year of his being bludgeoned with the gravest charges possible, the attorney general has decided to erase 95 percent of the indictment."

Katsav's term of office ends in two weeks. However, having promised the High Court of Justice that he would resign once an indictment is filed against him in court, he will keep this promise and not serve out the remaining time, his attorneys said.

Knesset members Thursday demanded that Katsav's post-retirement benefits of NIS 1 million a year be revoked.

After leaving office, Katsav, 61, is entitled to an apartment, car and assistants, in addition to a NIS 500,000 annual pension.

The cumulative cost of the benefits to the state is an estimated NIS 25 million, based on a life expectancy of 78.

The law does not provide for a case of a convicted president, so Katsav would continue to receive these benefits even if convicted. However, a number of MKs have prepared bills revoking retirement benefits of public figures who are convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude. The bills will be submitted to the Knesset's House Committee next Tuesday.

Knesset sources said the committee will try to enact the bills before Katsav is convicted so they may be applied to him.

MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) has presented a proposal stipulating that a former president, minister or Knesset member who is convicted of a crime committed during his term of office will not receive state payments apart from his monthly pension.

"Apart from the damage caused to the public's confidence in the Knesset by MKs and public figures who have been convicted of crimes, these people continue to receive benefits at the public's expense their whole life," Erdan said.

"Elected officials must set a personal example and be a role model. To strengthen the public's confidence in the Knesset and its members we must increase the sanctions toward a Knesset member who is convicted and make it clear that such a criminal cannot go on receiving the post-retirement benefits of public figures."

MK Ruhama Avraham Balila (Kadima) presented a bill revoking various benefits and the monthly pension of public figures convicted of a crime with a penalty of three years in prison or worse.

The chairman of the Knesset's Ethics Committee, Haim Oron (Meretz), said recently that "if the president is indicted and convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, then the Finance Committee must reconsider these terms after his retirement."

Katsav is entitled to a monthly pension of NIS 46,278 ¬ the same as his monthly president's wage, due to his seniority in public office. He has served intermittently as a Knesset member and minister since 1977.

He is also entitled to an annual NIS 1 million budget to maintain an apartment, office, car, driver and staff, including a domestic staff to run his home. Should he give up his Jerusalem apartment, his private residence in Kiryat Malachi would be run at the state's expense for life. The state will also pay for his telephone and mobile phone expenses, a Volvo luxury sedan and driver, a hospitality allowance, and the medical bills of him and his wife.