Israel president sex case delayed

 

Israeli prosecutors postponed implementing a plea bargain with former President Moshe Katsav today after public watchdog groups that want him tried for sexual misconduct appealed to the Supreme Court, officials said.

Mr Katsav, who resigned under a deal that Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz announced on Thursday, was to have confessed to committing indecent acts and sexually harassing female employees, and receive a suspended prison sentence.

The plea bargain drew protests from Israelis who had expected Mr Katsav to be prosecuted on more serious charges, and possibly jailed, after Mr Mazuz said in January that there might be evidence he committed rape.

Thousands demonstrated in Tel Aviv late last night, demanding Mr Katsav be put on trial. The protest was organised by women's rights activists.

A spokesman for Mazuz said the attorney-general decided to delay filing the indictment on Sunday after an anti-corruption lobby and women's groups lodged Supreme Court petitions arguing the plea bargain made Katsav appear to be "above the law".

The court, which is authorised to overrule Mazuz, ordered him to defend his decision not to go to trial.

"Usually, our response to a Supreme Court petition takes several days, and it could be much longer before the High Court issues its ruling on this matter," the Mr Mazuz spokesman said.

Mr Mazuz dubbed Mr Katsav a "serial sex offender" in a television interview yesterday but said there was insufficient evidence to pursue a rape prosecution.

Mr Katsav (62) denied wrongdoing in the case, and unnamed confidants told Israeli media that he sought a plea bargain to spare his family the ordeal of a trial.

Mr Katsav was elected to the largely ceremonial post in 2000. He resigned two weeks before his term was due to expire. Veteran politician Shimon Peres was elected president last month and takes up the post on July 15th.