Pres. Katsav's Attorneys Seek Special Privileges for Client

President Moshe Katsav's attorneys are demanding special privileges for their client in the criminal proceedings against him, arguing that his status as president warrants this. But Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has refused, saying the principle of equality requires the conduct of Katsav's case to be identical to that of a case against any other citizen.

Katsav's attorney, Avigdor Feldman, raised this demand at a High Court of Justice hearing yesterday on Katsav's petition to receive all material relevant to the case against him, including internal police and prosecution legal opinions, before his hearing with Mazuz. Such internal memorandums are not usually given to suspects at this stage.

At this hearing, held before Justices Dorit Beinisch, Miriam Naor and Esther Hayut, Feldman said: "An exception should be made in this unprecedented case, whose implications are the resignation of the president of the state and the filing of an indictment against him." But government attorney Dina Zilber objected, saying: "This is an attempt to obtain favors not available to other suspects," and "we object to the argument that the usual rules should not apply." Zilber added that the prosecution had already "stretched the limits as much as possible" on the issue of the defense's access to the investigative material.

The prosecution also took advantage of the hearing to declare that no secret wiretaps had been conducted of Katsav, his relatives or his associates.

After the hearing, Katsav's attorneys - Feldman, Zion Amir and Avraham Lavie - went to the prosecution's offices to hear recordings of the interrogation of the women who have accused him of sexual assault. They had previously received transcripts of the interrogations.

Meanwhile, the Knesset House Committee yesterday extended Katsav's leave of absence until the end of his term, on July 15. Eleven committee members, all coalition members, voted in favor of the extension, while protesting the fact that the president has not chosen to resign. Four Knesset members, most from the opposition, voted against, in the hope that Katsav's resumption of his post would prompt public pressure for his resignation.

The main question under discussion at the meeting was which would be more disgraceful - extending or ending Katsav's "temporary incapacity" to serve. The argument arose in light of Katsav's announcement that he was extending his leave "until further notice," thereby stressing that the decision is in his hands. Although Knesset legal advisor Nurit Elstein clarified that the president's announcement could not be approved in that wording, explaining that the resolution must include a date, committee members' comments were scathing.

"If the president ends his incapacity, I will instigate impeachment proceedings immediately," vowed Committee Chair Ruhama Avraham. Kadima faction chair Avigdor Yitzhaki added: "I protest the fact that he is president of the state. He shames himself and the institution of the presidency."