MKs Plan to Cancel Katsav's Benefits Despite Indictment

Indictment to be issued Thursday after High Court rejection of six petitions against plea bargain.

The Knesset Finance Committee was to discuss canceling former president Moshe Katsav's presidential benefits even if the court does not determine that his crimes were of moral turpitude.

The law states that a president who is not convicted of a crime of moral turpitude is still eligible to receive life-long benefits from the state.

Chair of the Knesset ethics committee Hair Oron (Meretz) convened a meeting in which he demanded that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz charge Katsav with acts of moral turpitude.

"If the (former) president demands a new plea bargain due to the moral turpitude charges, then an entirely new indictment must be submitted against Katsav," Oron said.

An indictment is to be issued Thursday against Katsav in the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, a senior aide to Mazuz announced Tuesday.

The announcement follows the rejection Tuesday by the High Court of Justice of six petitions against a plea bargain with Katsav.

The State Prosecutor's Office said Tuesday that it would insist that the Magistrate's Court, when approving the plea bargain, would find that Katsav's offenses involved moral turpitude.

The petitions against the plea bargain were filed following Mazuz's announcement in January 2007 that he was considering indicting Katsav for sexual offenses - including rape - against four complainants, as well as other offenses. Following a hearing Mazuz held for Katsav's lawyers in May 2007, the State Prosecutor's Office announced a plea bargain with Katsav in which the former president would admit to sexual harassment and non-consensual indecent acts against two female subordinates and harassing a witness.

According to the agreement, Katsav would admit to to the charges, would receive a suspended sentence whose length would be determined by the court, and would compensate the complainants to the sum of NIS 15,000 and NIS 35,000.

The petitions to the High Court were submitted by the Movement for Quality Government, women's groups and two complainants.

Eliad Shraga, chair of the Movement for Quality Government, said he was disappointed by the High Court's ruling and that he intended to submit a request for another hearing before an expanded bench. The High Court ruling showed that "there are those who are equal and those who are more equal," he said.

The majority of justices, represented by court vice president Justice Eliezer Rivlin, justices Ayala Procaccia and Asher Grunis, ruled that Mazuz's decision to enter into a plea bargain was based on the evidence and the wide discretion given to the attorney general, restraint in judicial oversight, and that Mazuz's decision did not exceed reasonableness nor require the court's intervention.

High Court President Justice Dorit Beinisch and Justice Edmond Levy held the minority opinion, stating that the plea bargain should be abrogated and Mazuz required to reconsider his position with regard to trying Katsav in the case of complainants A. from the Tourism Ministry and L., a former staff member at the presidential residence. Beinisch and Levy wrote that the plea bargain was against the public interest and needed the court's intervention.

All the justices agreed that the petitions against the plea bargain in the case of A. from the president's residence should be rejected. However, here too, Beinisch and Levy said Mazuz would do well to reconsider his position.

The justices also rejected the petitions against the plea bargain based on the statute of limitations, the right of the complainants to a hearing, and the matter of moral turpitude.

The State Prosecutor's Office noted its satisfaction that the plea bargain had withstood the test of the High Court, and said that while it included lesser charges than those of which Katsav was initially suspected, the charges were still very serious both in and of themselves and considering Katsav's public status. The State Prosecutor's Office also said it would study the court's comments regarding its conduct in the case and draw conclusions if necessary.

One of Katsav's attorneys, Avigdor Feldman, said after the High Court ruling that "there were no winners in this case. Everyone is licking their wounds. Katsav, too, who will have to stand before a court that will doubtless criticize him harshly."

Although Katsav's attorneys Tuesday intimated that a finding of moral turpitude would undermine the plea bargain, it is believed that this will not be the case.