Attorney General Explains About-Face in Katzav Decision

Mazuz defends decision as being in "public interest," saying he changed mind after giving Katzav a hearing. No explanation what caused the change.

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Hillel Fendel ,

At a hastily called press conference Thursday morning, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz stated why he back-tracked from his original inclination to indict the President on rape and downgrade the charges to sexual harassment instead.  Mazuz said [roughly translated]:

"This story started about a year ago, when Pres. Katzav came to me and described the events, giving me a letter describing what he said was an attempt to blackmail him. After checking the material, I told the police to investigate - and the investigation soon changed from one of blackmail to one against the President himself for a long series of accusations by other women who worked under him at various times regarding various sex crimes. After an intensive and fast investigation, the police, under Investigator Segalovitch, gave us their findings and conclusions, saying that there was serious evidence to indict the President on various crimes, and not only sexual ones.

"After we checked the material intensively, I announced in January that I was considering indicting Katzav on some of the charges recommended by the police, but that a final decision would be made after a hearing for him. I emphasized in that announcement that Katzav's claims in the hearing would be carefully heard with an open heart and mind, etc.

"I want to say that people think a hearing is just a formality, etc. They are also asking how it is that there is such a great gap between my original inclination and now. The answer is that an indictment is not just a formality, but something that can really change the picture. It often happens that an indictment changes the picture totally or partially. Just two weeks ago I closed a case against a Knesset Member after a hearing. In any event, the hearing was held, and Katzav's lawyers gave their side and new evidence. With thousands of pages of evidence, we - a team of 12 lawyers in the State and District Prosecution - also held a meeting to analyze all the information.

"At the end of this process, the President's lawyers came to us with a request to reach an agreement and an end to this story. First they offered an agreement that would have nothing to do with courts, but just a resignation - as did the late President Ezer Weizmann [who resigned in 2000 instead of being charged with various crimes]. However, we rejected this, saying that there would be an indictment no matter what, and that we could argue about its details. We did not initiate this deal, but rather set red lines, and in fact the President agreed to various details only little by little over the past few weeks.

"Finally, an agreement was reached - it has just been signed a few minutes ago by the President - on indictment for a series of 'base acts' against women via pressure when he was Minister of Tourism - this is a serious crime carrying a maximum sentence of seven years - and also sexual harassment against an employee in the President's Residence, and harassment of a witness. The President will admit to these, will receive the punishment of a suspended sentence and a fine to be paid to the two women, and he will also financially compensate the State for gifts he gave his family members, and he will resign.

"This agreement was made with many considerations in mind, and achieves several important objectives of the original investigation: It reveals the series of events that happened over the course of years; it attains his consent to assume responsibility; it gives an important public message regarding the rule of law and that public servants must the price for their actions. It also empowers women to complain about sexual crimes done to them. In addition, it must be remembered that this is a very complex case with great difficulties regarding the evidence - difficulties that would influence the chances of a conviction. Without this deal, we couldn't know what conviction, if any, would be achieved, whereas this agreement brings a certain conviction. We also had the public interest in mind; we didn't want to have a great scandal against the Presidency and the country, with many months of bad headlines against Israel.

"To those who say the elephant turned into a mouse [the Hebrew equivalent of a mountain becoming a molehill], I don’t know any mice as big as this one. Katzav is now a former president who is convicted of serious sex crimes - this is a disgrace that will accompany him his whole life. If this is a molehill, then I don't know what a mountain is. The question is not which or how many clauses he was convicted of, but the very fact of a conviction. We must also remember that the statute of limitations has run out on most of the cases... It would have been easier for me to hand down an indictment, and then if he would be acquitted in two years, I would say that the court is just doing its job.  But I took the harder way, one that I knew would bring criticism, because I feel that I have a responsibility..."

In January of this year, Katzav presented his side of the story in an impassioned, televised speech in which he attacked Mazuz, the media, the police and the judicial system. 

 



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