Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz hinted this week that he would charge Moshe Katzav with rape and other serious sexual crimes after the former President repudiated a bargain under which he would have pleaded guilty to lesser offences and saved himself the humiliation of a trial.
Mr Katzav, a 62-year-old father of five, insisted that he was innocent. He will now be the first Israeli head of state to be indicted and the first to risk being sent to prison.
“Presumably the ramifications of this move are clear to Katzav,” the Attorney-General said. He recalled that before the plea bargain was signed the prosecution had intended to indict him on the gravest offences of which he was suspected. “Now, since the plea bargain has been cancelled, the decision called for in the circumstances will be made soon.”
Eran Shendar, who retired recently as chief prosecutor, told army radio that they had always planned to charge Mr Katzav with rape if there was no deal.
“We certainly believed there was evidence for conviction,” he added, despite acknowledging problems with some of the witnesses.
Eight women who worked for Mr Katzav in the President’s office or his previous post as Tourism Minister have lodged complaints alleging varying degrees of sexual assault. One of them, identified as A from the Tourism Ministry, accused him of raping her twice in the office and a Jerusalem hotel. Mr Mazuz had previously branded Mr Katzav a “serial sex offender”.
Analysts say the erstwhile plea bargain has made the task harder for both prosecution and defence. In justifying the deal when it was challenged in the Supreme Court, the Attorney-General admitted that there were weaknesses in the evidence and doubts about the credibility of the witnesses for the more serious charges. Now he will have to prove otherwise. Nonetheless, by signing an agreement to plead guilty to sexual harassment, Mr Katzav undermined his own claim that he was guilty of nothing more than a fatherly pat, a brush of the hand.
He has now ensured that allegations will be aired in all their lurid detail.